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The Locust and the Bird: My Mother's Story [Paperback]

Hanan Al-Shaykh
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
Price: 12.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

5 April 2010
Kamila is nine years old when she is taken from the poverty of her childhood village in southern Lebanon to Beirut. She has never learned to read or write though she longs to go to school. Stories, poetry and film are her passion - and a beautiful boy called Muhammad. They fall in love before Kamila is forced into an arranged marriage, despite her tears and screams. She is only fourteen years old. On her wedding night, her first daughter is conceived; four years later, Hanan is born. Kamila and Muhammad continue to see each other in secret, risking their lives. It is eight years before Kamila can bring herself to divorce her husband, as to do so means leaving her daughters behind. Beautifully evoking the dusty streets of Beirut and life in Lebanon, this is a heartbreaking memoir of an extraordinary woman.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (5 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408800845
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408800843
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 457,001 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


...the author's journalistic talent reveals itself in her ability to get past her own abandonment to paint Kamila as a vivid, wilful girl who lived as though she were the heroine of a great film.
--Publishers Weekly


`The Locust and the Bird puts to rest every stereotype about the Arab world and its women' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating, sad and moving 16 July 2009
I first heard about this book on Radio 4 Woman's Hour. It is a fascinating account of one woman's life, loves, hardships and detailed memories, written as if in the first person by an estranged daughter. She writes with a tinge of guilt but also with infinite respect and love. It is both moving and disconcerting and provides a critical insight into the struggles and contradictions faced by Muslim women.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely read! 17 July 2009
I caught the last episode of this book on Woman's Hour, Radio 4 and so decided to buy the book.

Well I wasn't disappointed. The book is set in Lebanon in the 40's and 50's and is about Kamila, an illiterate young girl tricked into marriage with her dead sisters husband, a much older, religious and humble man, but this is not before she has already fallen in love with Mohammed, a young student. She could have accepted her life but instead fights the many obstacles in her path and is indeed a strong, fearless woman but feckless and dishonest too. From this alliance she bears two daughters, the youngest, Hanan, the author of this book.

She eventually meets Mohammed again and there starts the beginning of a long love affair until eventually a divorce is arranged. However, marriage to Mohammed is not the dream she had thought it would be and that in turn brings disappointment.

What I particularly liked about this book was that with a clearer understanding of why her mother had to leave her at such a young age/and that there are always two sides to a story, the relationship between mother and daughter improved.

Yes, this is certainly a book I would keep and at the present time it is on loan to one of my own daughters!!
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful, emotional, gripping 6 Jun 2009
I absolutely loved this book.... A funny, sad, emotional story about the life of a Lebanese woman in the 1940s-1950s. Something we don't usually read about. What a life Kamila led, I really became gripped by her tale, she was so strong, fighting all the obstacles in her path. But what was most touching was the way the author got to know her mother properly whilst writing this book, understanding her and understanding why her mother had to leave when she was young.

I didn't flinch from the emotion in this book. It made it 'real' and ever more interesting to read a 'real' story about the strength and resilience of women in this part of the world.

A definite KEEPER!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful 7 July 2010
There can't a bigger statement of daughterly love and forgiveness than penning down the tale of the mother who abandoned you as a child to run off with her lover. Yet that's exactly what Hanan Al Shaykh did in this book, writing her mother's true story in the first narrative, a translucent, fearless and unrepentant voice. This is the story of a woman born to poverty in the early 20th century south Lebanon, abandoned by her father and given off by her own mother as a child bride to her dead sister's husband.

But this girl (Camila) is no loser and the book tells the story of her triumphant spirit. At a time where girls are expected to be grateful for the food and shelter their family provided them, Camila tears off her wedding dress and daubs her face with soot to show her resentment against her forced marriage. She sneaks to the cinema where films give her much needed escapism and help her overcome her illiteracy by teaching her about romance and passion. The love of her life, the much better educated Mohammed, serenades her during their illicit encounters in the orchards of Bhamdoun and even at his family's home only a few blocks from the house she shares with her husband, kids, mother, siblings and nephews.

Eventually, Camila leaves her two daughters and husband to marry Mohammed, and has more children with him. His career goes well as an internal security officer, but like many great love stories this one is destined for a tragic end: Mohammed dies in a car accident. But Camila doesn't give up. She travels the world visiting her children in Kuwait and the US and turns her living room in Beirut into a social salon, a "psychiatrist's couch" as Hanan Al Shaykh puts it.

I cried my eyes out at the end, when Camila's sad yet inspiring life comes to an end.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Quite sad... 5 Feb 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
...but based on true story I think and only sad stories seem to make it! I enjoyed a lot of it from knowing Lebanon and the geographical places and culture, not sure how much you would enjoy otherwise, might just find slow moving and sad.
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing 3 Jun 2009
Found this book in a charity shop on the day of publication which suggests that somebody who had a review copy didn't think it was a 'keeper'. Nor do I ... though I had been looking forward to reading it, as it has attracted quite a lot of media attention.
'It is an extraordinarily brave act for a writer to undertake to inhabit, fully and sympathetically, the life her mother lived before she was born, particularly when her mother was no jewel of wifely virtue,' JM Coetzee writes on the covernotes.
Hanan Al-Sheikh's mother, Kamila, who never learned to read or write, begged her daughter for years to write her story; berating her, when she wrote novels about Arab women's lives, for 'nibbling at other people's dishes,' when there was a true story closer to home.
Kamila, who was born in Lebanon in 1925, was only 11 when she was tricked into a betrothal to her late half-sister's widowed husband Abu-Hussein, who was nearly 30. Her feckless father sold his permission in exchange for gold pieces; her divorced and penniless mother, dependent on the extended family, was hardly in any position to stand up for her.
But at the age of 13 - before the marriage is enforced - Kamila falls in love with a handsome young boy Mohammed whom she sees sitting at a fountain. The following year, to her great distress and Mohammed's, the marriage takes place, her husband forces himself on her - and, still in her teens, she gives birth to two daughters.
But for years she carries on a scandalous affair with her real love Mohammed, snatching passionate afternoons in his bedroom while her husband is at work. Until, at last, Mohammed engineers a divorce for her and she chooses life with him above her daughters.
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