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The Locust and the Bird: My Mother’s Story

The Locust and the Bird: My Mother’s Story

Author(s): Hanan al-Shaykh

Location(s): Lebanon

Genre(s): Biography

Era(s): 1930s to 2001

In a masterly act of literary transformation, Hanan al-Shaykh re-creates the dramatic life of her mother, Kamila, in Kamila’s own voice. And so we see 1930s Beirut through the eyes of the unschooled but irrepressibly spirited ten-year-old child who arrives there from a small village in southern Lebanon with her own mother and siblings. We see her drawn to the excitements of the city, to the thrill of the cinema, and, most powerfully, to Mohammed, the young man who will be the love of her life. Despite a forced marriage at the age of thirteen to a much older man, despite the two daughters she bears him (one of them the author), despite the scandal and embarrassment she brings to her family, Kamila continues to see Mohammed. Finally, after nearly a decade, her husband gives her a divorce. Now we are looking through the eyes of a still very young woman who abandons her first family in order to create a family with the man she truly loves, only to be left a widowed mother of five when Mohammed dies tragically young.

As the narrative unfolds through the years (Kamila died in 2001) we follow this passionate, strong, demanding, and captivating woman as she survives the tragedies and celebrates the triumphs of
a life lived to the very fullest. It’s an extraordinary story given a brilliantly realized, luminous voice.

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