by Jean Grant, contemporary (2010)
Mishmish Press, $18.95, ISBN 978-0-9825074-0-7
The premise of The Burning Veil is deceptively simple: it is the love story of Dr Sarah Grant, an agnostic woman from Wisconsin, and Ibrahim Suleiman, a Muslim Saudi Arabian. Sarah eventually accepts a temporary position in a hospital in Khobar in order to know Ib, his family, and their culture better before she takes the big step forward to marry him. But it won't be easy as their love will be challenged by disapproval from members of both their families.
Since this story is set in year 2001, you can guess the nature of the conflict that rears in the middle or so of this story. Love may survive disapproving family members... but can it survive when Sarah and Ibe are suddenly thrust in a very difficult position after September 11, 2001?
The Burning Veil deals with a theme that can go disastrously wrong in the hands of the wrong author, but Jean Grant deftly avoids playing the demagogue or pushing forth an overt agenda via her story. The reader is allowed to make up his or her mind about the characters and their beliefs in this story. Indeed, Ms Grant shows that both Arabians and Americans are capable of acts of compassion as well as acts of extremism.
It is also pretty good how Ibe is shown to be a character with both realistic strengths and weaknesses instead of a walking poster to represent Saudi Arabia to Sarah's USA. Sometimes I want to strangle these people while at other times I want to give them a hug. That is the greatest success of Ms Grant here: she manages to tell a story instead of preaching from the soapbox. This success is even more impressive given how easy it is for Ms Grant to take the easy way out and demonize one side to make the other side's point.
As a result, The Burning Veil is a story that tackles issues like racism and religious intolerance headlong in a gentle manner, often with a degree of warmth and humor that works in spite of the gravity of those issues. There are no easy answers or short cuts that will solve everyone's problems - and there shouldn't be. The author instead offers to show how people from both sides of the fence deal when Sarah and Ibe choose to be with each other for their happily ever after. Therefore, this story is more of a character study than a political message.
My only complaints here are how the author frequently slips into the occasional long paragraphs of boring information dumping and how there are occasional punctuation boo-boos to distract me from my reading. The writing is decent, but it could use a bit of polishing up here and there to improve the readability of this story. There are also the occasional scenes that leave me scratching my head. For example, Ibe and Sarah make love during the breaking fast hours of the Ramadan period. Maybe they believe differently in Saudi Arabia, but over here, Muslims abstain from sex along other things throughout the entire Ramadan month - they break fast only to eat and drink, nothing more. And like most Westerners, Ms Grant believes that the veil is a symbol of female oppression. It isn't. There is a religious connotation in the wearing of the veil that has nothing to do with being subservient to men. The veil is not a bra - burning it does not symbolize the end of female oppression.
The Burning Veil is not something I normally choose to read because of how easy it is for books like this to become horribly wrong and therefore painful to read. Fortunately for me, this one is on the whole a thought-provoking glimpse into the hearts and minds of real people, and therefore it is worth a read at the end of the day.
For those folks not keen on the price of the trade paperback version, digital versions are also available on Smashwords and the Amazon Kindle store.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
Search for more reviews of works by this author: