- Book: Dune Song
- Location: Morocco, New York City (NYC)
- Author: Anissa M Bouziane
Jeehan Nathaar, an American born Muslim, watches from her office window as the twin towers of The World Trade Centre collapse. Traumatized by the event, Jeehan is further tortured by the relentless questions her colleagues throw at her, “Why do you hate us?” “I heard it said that it might be Arabs or Muslims … what the hell did we ever do to them?” At first, Jeehan tries to give them a bit of a Middle East history lesson and attempts to explain that she is American and loves America, but it falls on deaf ears and eventually she is “let go” from her position.
Having already abandoned her doctoral dissertation, the events following September 11th make Jeehan feel that she must discard her American dream in its entirety and flee to Morocco, her father’s birthplace. She and her Moroccan journalist friend, Ali, have plans to start working on a story about migrants crossing the Moroccan Desert – something he believes will become the story of the century. But Ali fails to materialise at Casablanca airport so Jeehan heads for the remote dune town on her own, struggling to cope with language difficulties, lack of money, an extremely hazardous journey and a mysterious and sinister man in a yellow turban who seems to be following her. When she finally arrives at La Rose des Sables, the small hotel on the edge of the desert, she becomes very ill and is cared for by the family who run it, despite their own very grave troubles.
Dune Song is certainly an exciting read. Large sections of it read like a thriller and it totally engages the reader as they try to unravel exactly what is happening at La Rose des Sables. The novel’s narration shifts rapidly back and forwards between New York, following the dreadful events of September 11 and Morocco from the point when Jeehan lands at Casablanca and the speed of the shifts makes it feel disjointed and leaves the reader feeling pretty confused. This irritated me at first, but then I began to think that perhaps Bouziane had intended this – to let the reader experience some of dislocation and disorientation that Jeehan feels.
Bouziane’s novel isn’t without flaws; pacing is a bit problematic, as there is a lengthy hiatus in the midst of the fast-flowing narrative while Jeehan struggles with what seems to be an interminable illness and it’s hard not to feel that the philosophical elements of the novel, incorporating the ancient wisdom of the Moroccan people and the mystical healing of Jeehan, don’t sit very comfortably with the rest.
Dune Song, is, however, beautifully written. Bouziane’s prose is taut and lyrical and she manages to create a very powerful sense of both New York and the Moroccan dunes. The sense of numbness and shock following that dreadful incident in New York is vividly conveyed and so too is the experience of being Muslim and constantly under suspicion. And then, in total contrast, she recreates for the reader, in prose that is closer to poetry in places, the beauty, the stillness, the emptiness and the peace of the Moroccan desert.