A Land without Jasmine

READ THE WORLD – Yemen: A Land Without Jasmine by Wajdi Al-Ahdal

Translated by William Maynard Hutchins.

Under the watchful eyes of the men in her community the beautiful, virtuous university student Jasmine goes about her daily business, keeping to herself and avoiding the male gaze at all costs. That is until one Valentine’s Day, when she disappears without a trace. As the details surrounding her sudden disappearance emerge the mystery deepens. Sexual depravity, honour, obsession; the motives are numerous and the suspects plentiful. Family, friends, fellow students and nosey neighbours are quick to make their own judgements on the case, but the truth may be far stranger than anyone anticipates.

I found A Land Without Jasmine strangely captivating. It’s a super short novel, less than 100 pages, and has seven chapters, each from a different character’s perspective. The first is from Jasmine’s, as she describes the heated gazes she receives from all men, young and old, even when wearing her niqab. How uncomfortable she feels, how their attention often makes her feel anxious as she wishes to be treated for more than what she looks like. The following chapters are from the perspective of detectives, neighbours, and family as they try and piece together what has happened to Jasmine.

The way Jasmine describes the unwanted attention she receives is uncomfortable to read, but what’s even more uncomfortable is when the story is from the point of view of her teenage neighbour who is infatuated with her. He, like a lot of the other male characters, seems to be unable to separate his desires and dreams from reality. His desires are explicit, and he becomes obsessed with figuring out what happened to Jasmine, forgetting to look out for himself or how his actions might be perceived by the police or Jasmine’s family.

I thought the writing in A Land Without Jasmine was often very good and provocative. However, there were some phrases that felt a bit stilted down to a choice of a word when another might’ve been more suitable but that was likely to be down to the translation. It did take me a little while to get into the story though. I think that was down to it being written in first person and I can’t remember the last book I read that was written in that tense. I think sometimes first-person narrative can make the writing seem more simplistic. At some points this seemed to work in the novels advantage, as it sometimes made statements more impactful, but at other points it made reading it feel slow and awkward.

A Land Without Jasmine is a almost a sexy mystery story – though while it does have erotic language in it, the way the characters objectify and belittle Jasmine doesn’t make it particularly sexy or appealing. There are some moments of wry sense of humour here, and how it brings in family politics, the importance and power of different family tribes for one, is interesting as that’s something I knew little about. A Land Without Jasmine is a strange mystery but once you get into the writing style, it becomes a compelling one. 4/5.

Mid-year Book Freak Out Tag 2020

We’re halfway through what has been an eventful, interesting and somewhat depressing year so far (at least for me) so it’s time to have a quick check in on my reading so far in 2020. I also thought I’d do the Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag which was created by Earl Grey Books and Read Like Wildfire on YouTube. Turns out I did this tag in 2017 and not done it again since – probably due to my lack of organisation.

My very simple reading goals of 2020 are:

  • Read 60 books and review at least half of them. I’ve read 32 and reviewed 27 (though some of those aren’t live yet) so that’s on track. You can find a full list of the books I’ve read and reviewed so far this year on my Books of 2020 page as well as Goodreads.
  • Get my TBR down to 50 books. It currently stands at 91 when I stared the year with 85 unread books so that’s not going well but what else is new! Although while I am acquiring books they’re not overwhelming my TBR too much.
  • Have an equal split of male and female authors/if it leans one way, have it be that I read more women. As you can see by my handy pie chart that’s on track too:

  • At least 30% of the books I read be by people of colour. This is definitely on track at the minute as the authors of colour make up 60% of the books I’ve read so far this year. By the way “both” refers to books with multiple authors and one might be white and the other might be Black for example.

Now onto the tag!

1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2020
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
This was actually a bit difficult to choose as I’ve read a few 5 star books so far this year but I just loved Locke and his crew/family and the story was funny and exciting and just fantastic. I listened to the audiobook and I highly recommend that because the narrator is one of the best I’ve ever heard.

2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2020
Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland
I don’t read a lot of sequels. Both because I tend to read standalone books and when I do read a series, I usually take ages to get around to reading the next book. This year I read a sequel the month after I read the first book! Deathless Divide was darker and better than the first book and I definitely recommend reading them both. (more…)