by Seba Al-Herz
Seven Stories Press
320 pages, $17.95
THE OTHERS is a trance-like excursion into contemporary Saudi Arabian life, where divisions between people inform every aspect of social behavior. Mysterious and commonplace, nationalist yet saturated with American popular culture, Saudi Arabia is a place that makes for a journey both sensuous and strange. And its exploration of lesbian sexuality places it instantly at odds with the extreme social conservatism of the Saudi regime.
Here’s what we know before even opening the book: Seba Al-Herz is the pseudonym of a 26-year-old woman from al-Qatif in Saudi Arabia. The novel’s translator is never identified by name, and the protagonist, a young Shi’a woman in college in a largely Sunni province, is also nameless. On the book’s front cover appears an image of two hands clasping, both adorned (tattooed?) with a traditional Arabic design.
Begin reading, and you’ll find even more layers of concealment and division.