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Women of Sand and Myrrh

3.23  ·  Rating details ·  1,076 ratings  ·  147 reviews
A powerful and moving novel, by the Arab world's leading woman novelist, about four women coping with the insular, oppressive society of an unnamed desert state. ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published July 1st 1992 by Anchor (first published 1982)
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Average rating 3.23  · 
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 ·  1,076 ratings  ·  147 reviews

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The first time he asked how to say 'good morning' in English and American and found they were the same, he exclaimed in surprise, 'Praise the Lord! They're the same as each other inside and out!'
Whenever I see a book by a woman of color with a super low rating and/or reviews littered all over with a variation on the theme of "didn't like the characters = main reason for not liking the book", I sigh and crack my fingers and pull on my gloves. More often than not this "didn't like the characte
It took me a while to pin down my feelings for this book. It raises so many, it was really hard to wade through them all and work out what I thought of the book as a whole.

The book is 4 intertwining stories about 4 different women within a very strict, restrictive Islamic society within the Middle East. The best I can find is Saudi Arabia is probably the closest with these restrictions. I loved that this was from the women's perspective which gave us an insight into a world half of us would neve
May 01, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I cant believe they edited the English version of this book for marketing purposes, this is like when Arab translators edit Simon De Beauvoir books claiming its too hard for us to understand .
this rating is for the english version, the original book is 4.5 stars.
The weight of a feminist story line is heavy but met with a great narration through four women from different socio-cultural backgrounds clawing against gender stereotypes, stigmas, and marital expectations. Much to what I was afraid of, the translation does paint it in a saviour light but if an attempt is made to search for the underlying meanings of being a woman, especially in the regions hinted at, it works as an important read.

↣ on my tbr for reading in translation readathon ↢
Jan 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The lives of four women intertwine in this unknown desert state somewhere in the middle-east. The author's colloquial use of language and metaphors gives the novel a post-modern feel. The author gives voices to four women from various socioeconomic classes. The issues addressed varies from what today's society would call archaic or pedantic; the contrasting nature of complexities the women face makes up the overarching arc. Understanding the clash of modernism and culture is these parts of the w ...more
Rachel Estridge
Mar 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Many of the reviews, I believe, are unfair. The English translation was heavily edited. The name of the book, and therefore, the meaning of the story was altered. Even the order of the perspectives were swapped around! This definitely changed our idea of who was the protagonist and who's story we should really be following. If this book was read as it is told in its original form, we would have seen it as Al-Shaykh intended. This story is very important for Middle Eastern feminism, identity, and ...more
Nov 21, 2012 rated it liked it
So Women of Sand and Myrrh is a better book than most people are giving it credit for, albeit not a fantastic one. Read it more like a Middle Eastern Virginia Woolf novel, and it makes more sense. The news here is not that "hey, women living in unnamed generic Islamic countries can feel oppressed," but that Hanan Al-Shaykh, in 1980-something, was writing such a nuanced account of the very specific ways that female sexuality could be circumscribed and/or redirected in such a world. The internal f ...more
Jan 16, 2020 rated it it was ok
I don’t know if I’m comfortable with the way this depicts women and hysteria. It is working well with tropes of isolation and displacement, but there still seems this very archaic model of women who are forced to remain in domestic spaces who just descend into alternate forms of madness, self directed trauma, hysteria, dramatic actions, etc. while the men are not only completely stable but almost become two dimensional background characters to this more predominant running narrative. Just a few ...more
Jun 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Spectacular. Al-Shaykh is a powerful writer and draws the reader very quickly into the world(s) of her unhappy, unfulfilled characters. The technique of dividing the novel into four sections, each in first person and narrated by a different character, made it feel more like a collection of connected short stories, especially because of interruptions and overlap in the sequence of events.

Al-Shaykh's group of four is extremely diverse in all the important ways. They share little more than a locati
Apr 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I would venture to say that this is now one of my favorite books. I enjoyed it because the characters were complex and their individual stories were interesting. Contrary to what others might think, this is not just the story of Middle Eastern women, but portrays a very woman experience in general. Though some of the same things may not currently occur in Western society, they once did.

I'm not great at writing reviews, but I just wanted to share that this book is not given enough credit. Read it
The desert came into view, looking as it had done the first time I saw it: sand and palm trees, a way of life that revolved around human beings without possessions or skills, who had to rely on their imagination to contrive a way of making their hearts beat faster or even to keep them at a normal pace; to search unaides for a hidden gleam of light, and to live with two seasons a year instead of four.
Apr 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book. More coming soon.
Tia Gonzales
May 27, 2019 rated it liked it
revelatory, 4 women who live life 'behind the veil', so much boredom, so much pain, so must thwarted desire, so much pent-up emotion....found the book very sad. ...more
Nov 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
I liked it, though bits of it were not that interesting but the one where the spoiled princess chick is using uppers and downers to get through her day because life was that boring and at the end of the book , all that they could offer her to make her feel better was a stuff load of PUNK outfits and PUNK hairspray to color her hair ....well...that got me interested in PUNK and then I ended up doing some art gigs with the real PUNK people that inspired her allusions to the outfits in the book...s ...more
Jan 24, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: people who like angsty "women's stories"
Good concept: poor execution.

Four disparate Middle Eastren women -- who know or know of each other -- tell their stories about women's lives in a fundamentalist male-dominated society. Each woman's story adds another POV to what's going on with all the other characters.

I thought it would be an interesting approach to first-person narrative. The idea, I assume, was to give the reader a view of each character from internal and external POVs. Unfortunately, the writer failed to deliver. The narra
Krista Morris
Feb 27, 2020 rated it liked it
I read an article titled "Gender, Genre, and the (Missing) Gazelle: Arab Women Writers and the Politics of Translation," after I finished this book. This article was suggested by another Goodreads reviewer, and I really appreciate it.

While I rate the English translation 3 stars at most, I learned that significant changes were made from the Arabic, ranging from the title to order of the four narratives. After reading through the changes, I feel it is quite possible I would rate the original work
Oct 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Taking place in an unnamed desert state, Women of Sand and Myrrh takes the reader through the lives of four very different women who are in the desert - and seeking to escape from it - for differing reasons. There is Suha, the educated but chronically bored Lebanese exile; Tamr, the rebel who wants to learn and open her own business; Suzanne, the white American who is cheating on her husband with a violent man; and Nur, the wife and mother who is unhappy in both roles and seeks to cope with her ...more
I read this novel for a literature class ("Literature in Translation") and learned about the changes the translator made to the original text, as well as how the book was "packaged" for the Western market (starting with the cover). This significantly changed the representation of Arab women's agency and empowerment (i.e. completely changing the original title "Misk al-Ghazal" = "The Gazelle's Musk", the re-ordering of the chapters, framing the story within Suha's narrative, while the original en ...more
Amazing book. Written by a woman from Lebanon, set in an 'unnamed desert state', but since the author lived in Saudi Arabia for a while, it's pretty clear it's supposed to be set there. She does such an incredible job telling the story of women in Saudi Arabia from the perspective of several different women, a Lebanese refugee, an American expat, a daughter of a wealthy Saudi family, which shows that there isn't one single experience of women in oppressive Muslim societies. And how women can be ...more
Apr 22, 2010 rated it it was ok
l must admit l expected a lot more from this book, especially after reading reviews on the cover when l was buying it..
it's composed in an interesting way, divided into 4 parts, each telling a story of one woman, while all four are connected in some way..
the writing style didn't impress me one bit though, and sometimes l struggled with following the story since it jumps from past to present without giving a clear impression of the time..
Jun 11, 2009 rated it it was ok
Was disappointed. The author conveyed the clastrophobic atmosphere of being a woman in an Islamic country rather well but I just didn't like the characters. I understand how stunted their lives were and how that molded their personalities, but it went on and on and on. ...more
Oct 25, 2011 rated it liked it
Really intresting to read the thoughts and feelings as well as the daily life of what it may be like to live in a land so different from what we're used to, the story line was great and I really was invested in the women's lives. ...more
Oct 28, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: bookclub
I loved the idea of this book, but just couldn't get into it. I'm not sure if it was the writing style, translation, or story. A bit of a disappointment. ...more
Mar 22, 2015 rated it liked it
I went in expecting this to be messy (it was) but still found parts of it interesting in spite of it.
Mar 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. A fascinating look into the lives of women in a part of the Middle East. Beautifully written, too!
May 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
An amazing view into a foreign world, sensitively translated
Jelena Gley
Apr 18, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: göttingen
I have to admit I don't really like this book. Nevertheless it was an interesting read, and my 3-stars-rating refers only to the English edition "Women of Sand & Myrrh". Following the hints of other reviewers I'm currently reading the paper "Gender, Genre and the (Missing) Gazelle: Arab Women Writers and the Politics of Translation" (Michelle Hartman, 2012). I regret that I'm not able to speak or read Arabic, otherwise I could read the original Misk al-Ghazal, I'd be interested to see whether my ...more
Desca Ang
The review is taken from my Instagram account: @descanto

Meet four women who dare living in the desert in an unknown Arabic country. These four women have different way of living and reacting to the Arabic world they are living in.

Suha: an “Arabic” woman who is trapped in her own culture. She always wants to leave the desert but is tied to her dominating husband and son. She is suffocating and longs for a freedom.

Tamr: another Arabic woman who longs for a freedom. She wants to open her own store
Jessika Malo
Jul 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classic, women-s, fiction
Although I speak Arabic, the book that reached me was the English translation and I have to say that I enjoyed it immensely. Chances are if I do read it in Arabic, it is even better. But that is apart from the book, Al-Shaykh is a brilliant writer whose sincerity, values, and strong voice shine in any language. The descriptions of the lives of these women and their expectations of love, marriage, identity, men and their societies is very much what Arab women would use themselves. The fact that ...more
Olivia Moffitt
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I do not really know how to describe this book. It can be a bit confusing as the book covers four different lives, and some or all of them intertwine at some point. I do not know how women from Middle Eastern countries view the book, but it seemed to be very accurate to the experiences I have both heard and observed. But, all of the women's lives have heavy burdens in some ways, and a few rather gruesome descriptions of a few events. The major point I took away from it all was that it is hard to ...more
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Hanan Al-Shaykh (Arabic: حنان الشيخ) is a Lebanese journalist, novelist, short-story writer, and playwright.
Al-Shaykh was born into a conservative Shia' Muslim family. She received her primary education in Beirut, and later she attended the American College for Girls in Cairo.
Al-Shaykh began her journalism career in Egypt before returning to Lebanon. She has also lived in Saudi Arabia and is curr

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