That Other Me by Maha Gargash
ISBN: 9780062391384 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780062391391 (ebook)
ASIN: B00X3N8SGE (Kindle version)
Publication Date: January 26, 2016
Publisher: Harper Perennial
From the #1 internationally bestselling author of The Sand Fish, Maha Gargash’s second novel is set in mid-1990s Dubai and Cairo and tells the story of how secrets and betrayals consume three members—an authoritarian father, a rebellious abandoned daughter, and a vulnerable niece—of a prominent Emirati family.
Majed, the head of the eminent Naseemy family, is proud to have risen into the upper echelons of Emirati society. As one of the richest businessmen in Dubai, he’s used to being catered to and respected—never mind that he acquired his wealth by cheating his brother out of his own company and depriving his niece, Mariam, of her rights.
Not one to dwell on the past—he sent Mariam to school in Egypt, what more could she want from him?—Majed spends his days berating his wife and staff and cavorting with friends at a private apartment. But he’s suddenly plagued by nightmares that continue to haunt him during the day, and he feels his control further slipping away with the discovery that his niece and his daughter are defying his orders.
Mariam despises Majed, and although she blames him for her father’s death, hers is a strictly-organized, dutiful existence. But when she falls for a brash, mischievous fellow student named Adel, he might just prove to be her downfall.
Largely abandoned by Majed as the daughter of a second, secret marriage, the vivacious Dalal has a lot to prove. The runner-up on “Nights of Dubai,” an American Idol-type reality show for Arab talent, Dalal is committed to being a singer despite the fact that it’s a disreputable career. When her efforts to become a celebrity finally begin to pay off, she attracts the attention of her father, who is determined to subdue Dalal to protect the family name. As Majed increasingly exerts his control over both Dalal and Mariam, both girls resist, with explosive consequences.
An exhilarating look at the little-known Khaleeji (Gulf-Arab) culture, That Other Me explores the ways social mores contribute to the collapse of one family.
Read an excerpt:
The stone flies high into the air. Then there’s a deafening crack at the second-story window and muffled squeals from inside the girls’ sakan, the dormitory of the Emirati college students in Cairo.
I had raised my fist high and thrown blindly. I had not expected my aim to be so perfect. All I wanted was to get Mariam’s attention so she would sneak out and meet me. I stand in place, stupefied. A girl—not Mariam—rushes to the window. She is in her nightgown, her head wrapped in a polka-dot head scarf. She would have spotted me had Azza not yanked me out of the glare of the streetlight. We squat down behind a dusty hedge as the window is pushed open.
“Ehh! What’s going on down there?” That’s the voice of the abla, one of the matrons responsible for the sakan girls. I try to stay still, but Azza’s perfume, a sharp bouquet that is an insult to any flower, shoots up my nostrils. I sneeze, and that gets the matron hollering out into the night again. “I can hear you down there, you mangy hooligans. This is a respectable building with decent people living in it, you hear me? Show me your faces, you cowards.” She is a barrel of a woman, blocking my view of the group of girls now huddled tightly around her. “I’m going to call the police. I’m going to call them right now.”
I hear a girl suggest that it might be thieves. “Or murderers,” a silly one adds. The abla retreats and shoos the girls away. Once she slams shut the broken window we straighten up, and Azza clicks her tongue. “What you go through for your cousin,” she says. “What’s wrong with just showing up at the door and asking to see her?”
“It’s after nine,” I reply, brushing the dust off my jeans and silky purple blouse. “You know she can’t leave after nine.” I gaze at the entrance of the building. I’ll have to bribe the doorman. Not willing to part with my money so easily, I’d kept this as a last option. “They’re grown women in there,” I grumble, “and they treat them like children.” Suddenly I’m struck by the importance of this mission. “I will demand that they treat those students—so clever that they are studying law, medicine, engineering—with respect. ‘Stop treating them like prisoners!’ That’s what I’ll say. ‘Give them the freedom to come and go as they please, to have some fun!'”
“But what if they don’t want any of that?” Azza asks. “Maybe they’re just here to study and leave with degrees. Don’t forget, you’re talking about Emirati girls.”
“Young women,” I correct her. “Seventeen years old, like me. Nineteen, like my cousin Mariam. And older, too.”
“But they’re Emiratis.”
“And what am I?”
“Well . . . yes . . . But your mother is Egyptian, thank God.” She raises her arms to the sky. “You’ve got that Egyptian mischief in you.” She starts giggling for no reason. I give her a nasty look, which she ignores. I turn my back to her and start walking away.
“Sometimes I think you do things without thinking,” she persists as she hurries after me.
“Sometimes you make the stupidest comments. Now will you stop it?” I swing around to face her. There’s just a ribbon of moon on this January night, but I know she can see my glower. She may have brought the car, her father’s battered maroon Fiat, but she knows that she is in the company of future promise. Yes, that’s how I visualize myself, ever since I found out today that I have a confirmed appointment to meet with the famous composer Sherif Nasr. “Look,” I tell her. “All I want is for Mariam to be with me right now, to celebrate my good news.”
She points at the doorman. “But what about him?”
“Leave him to me,” I say. “Just go and get the car and meet me a few buildings down, at the corner of the street.”
“But how will you get past him?”
“Just go, pretty one,” I say, even though she’s the opposite of pretty, and I march to the entrance of the sakan.
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