Book event finds Ferraris

La Cañada celebrated Zoe Ferraris’ novel “Finding Nouf,” a OneCityOneBook pick, in two events this past weekend. A children’s event called “The Ships of the Desert” was hosted for children on Saturday at the city library, and a book signing and author interview drew about 130 people to the La Cañada Unified School District Office on Sunday afternoon.

Ferraris’ novel is a mystery about a young woman’s disappearance and is set in present-day Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. While the book is a mystery, much of the story focuses on the tensions between a devout, traditional Muslim male and a bold Muslim female ally who has launched her own investigation into the girl’s disappearance.

Mark Salzman, an award-winning novelist and non-fiction writer, interviewed Ferraris during the Sunday event, asking questions on the gender issues in her novel and especially about her own experiences living in Jeddah.

“Finding Nouf” and Ferraris’ other book “City of Veils,” were inspired by her experiences living in a conservative Muslim community in Jeddah. The author married a Saudi Arabian and moved to Jeddah to live with his family just after the first Gulf War.

“Like a lot of Americans, over the last 10 years I’ve tried educating myself on the Middle East and I feel [“Finding Nouf”] gave me insight into that world better than anything else I’ve read,” Salzman told Ferraris. “You made a devout, pious Muslim male [Nayir, the main male character] sympathetic as you read.”

Salzman asked the author about her feelings toward gender segregation, the rigidly defined roles of men and women in Islamic society, and the modest dress that women wear in the Islamic and Arab world. Ferraris also spoke about the interesting contrasts of Western and Middle Eastern cultures that she experienced while living in Jeddah, along with her feelings about the recent uprisings of the Arab Spring.

Ferraris told the audience that both Muslim women and men dress modestly as a way of deflecting personal attention and humbling themselves before God. The full robes and head coverings Arab women wear also protect them from the desert elements of sun and sand.

There’s also a belief that women must dress modestly so as not to arouse a man’s interest because in that society, men are not expected to have any self control, said Ferraris.

Kay Bahrami, a librarian for La Cañada Elementary School and a member of the OneCityOneBook committee, led the children’s event at the library on Saturday. “The Ships of the Desert” session was hosted as a way to get children involved in the city’s book selection. Bahrami taught the children about camels and their importance as modes of transportation in the desert. Mark Totten, the public library manager, spoke about deserts, and the children colored camel pictures, played pin-the-tail-on-the-camel and drank a Saudi Arabian drink of apple juice, lemon juice and sparkling water.

Bahrami said she hopes that people take away an appreciation of other cultures after reading “Finding Nouf.”

“I hope people learn how the Arab culture is different from the U.S. and learn about different cultures. When you learn about different cultures, you don’t feel the need to change them,” she said.

“I wanted to humanize Saudi Arabia and write about people outside of stereotypes,” said Ferraris. She said she asked herself, “how many of the Arabs do I know that are oil barons or terrorists? None.”


Copyright © 2019, La Cañada Valley Sun
EDITION: California | U.S. & World