Finding the author of 'Finding Nouf'

For the eighth straight year, La Cañada Flintridge is becoming one big book club, as One City One Book returns in October with Zoë Ferraris’ critically acclaimed Middle East murder mystery, “Finding Nouf.”

Set in contemporary Saudi Arabia, the novel, released in 2009, is based on Ferraris’ own experiences living in the country for a year. The book showcases Saudi Arabia’s culture and strict gender roles while also spinning a page-turning tale of a missing 16-year-old bride-to-be.

As in previous years, the One City One Book committee has put together events in conjunction with the La Cañada public library to celebrate the program.

On Sunday, Oct. 16, Ferraris will come down from her Bay Area home to be interviewed by local author Mark Salzman at the La Cañada school board office, on Foothill Boulevard at Cornishon Avenue. Following the conversation, there will be questions from the audience and a quiz of trivia from the book, and Ferraris will sign audience members’ copies of “Finding Nouf.”

The day prior, the library will host a children’s program, “The Ships of the Desert,” which will have stories and other explanations of Middle East culture.

Ferraris, a San Francisco native who moved to Saudi Arabia for a year to live with her husband and his family, said that the unique culture she encountered is the defining element in her story.

“It’s really about the very basic psychological issues that occur there, in that country, that most people don’t have a handle on,” said Ferraris. “It’s about gender segregation and how it affects both men and women.”

In fact, the difference in culture was so stark that it inspired Ferraris, who had no previous experience as an author, to start writing in the first place.

“It wasn’t until I had come back and had spent a number of years telling people about my experiences over there and realizing how little people knew about Saudi Arabia that I decided to write the book,” said Ferraris.

Kay Bahrami, a member of the organizing committee, said she thinks residents will be excited to ask Ferraris about her time in Saudi Arabia.

“I have a feeling that people will have a lot of questions about her previous life. I think they’ll want to know what elements in the story were some things she experienced,” said Bahrami.

Librarian Mark Totten, who is a member of the committee that chose the book and helped coordinate this year’s programs, said that learning about Saudi Arabia’s culture was a major draw of “Finding Nouf.”

“I liked it because it was about an area of the world I knew nothing about,” said Totten. “Americans don’t have any idea what the country is like.”

Totten said that in his two years working in La Cañada, he has seen the community’s enthusiasm for the program.

“This started years ago so it’s kind of become an annual event, so people do look forward to it,” said Totten. “They start asking about the event even in the summer.”

City council member Laura Olhasso, who was instrumental in launching One City One Book in La Cañada, said it is important to support reading in the community.

“We do a lot of great things in the community for children and for sports,” said Olhasso. “This is one of those special programs that emphasizes reading and that’s part of what we all need to do.”

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