Forbidden Love- by Norma Khouri
Reading Around the World: Jordan
How obtained: second hand book sale
It was the biggest storm 50 years, with >100km/hr winds bending the big electricity towers to the ground (you know those metal ones that look like little Eiffel towers). There was a statewide blackout, ICU patients being bagged-and-masked after a generator fail in the hospital, and flooding waters all around. After spending the last two hours at work seeing clients in the dark, without the computer records, I went home to work out how to spend an evening alone in the cold dark house. Well, not entirely alone- there is always the cats, bless their furry little faces.
I actually did quite alright- having been on a boat in 100km/hr winds before I feel completely safe in my own home. I had all the makings of a really good salad. And I had enough candles that I could read easily, although with just a slight crook in my neck from trying to hold the book at the right angle to not have shadows on the page.
I picked one of the shorter books on my pile, and managed to read it in one evening. Although it is fairly short for a novel and written in an easy to read style it is not always the easiest book to read. It follows two young women who do not readily accept the longstanding culture amongst Arabs in Jordan regarding men and women. Their world is dominated by men (who must be obeyed, respected and agreed with no matter what), strict rules about who they can talk to (almost no one) and a feeling that they can do nothing to change this (or risk being killed for disobeying).
Jordan is a place where men in sand-coloured business suits hold cell phones to one ear and, in the other, hear the whispers of harsh and ancient laws blowing in from the desert. It is a pace where a worldly young queen argues eloquently on CNN for human rights, while a father in a middle-class suburb slits his daughter’s throat for committing the most innocent breach of old Bedouin codes of honour.
It is a book about the developing love between Norma’s best friend, a Muslim, and Michael who is a Christian. Norma seems to imply she writes to educate on the injustice and abuse women in traditional Jordan families face, and honour the story of her friend.
Given the general increase in lack of tolerance, and even fear, of other religions over the past few years, I usually aim to see the good in others, and try to increase my understanding of them. I struggled a bit with this book, because it focussed on all the bad things which are predominantly associated with Muslim culture in the Middle East (honour killing, oppression of females etc), but I note that the author points out these are actually common to families of all religions in the country- she points to Bedouin ancestry/culture as the source.
To make matters more complicated, although originally claimed to be a true story, it was later found to be a fabrication- after locals noted lots of small factual errors and investigation found that Norma actually immigrated to USA as a child, and was not in Jordan at the time of the happenings of the story. She had been living as the Norma of the story- petitioning the UN, travelling the world telling her story etc and denied the evidence which started to mount up- houses in America, bought with a husband, neighbours who remember her and her children, and a family who didn’t know where she had disappeared to. Had I known this, before I read it I probably wouldn’t have bothered with it. But I actually find it fascinating. I still find I can’t really believe that someone would make up an entire life story in order to sell a book, and then keep on with their new persona. It makes me wonder about the author and if she perhaps not entirely normal. They call it ‘literary fraud’- I had never really thought about such a thing existing outside of academic papers.
The power at my house came on at 10pm, and after a few more days of rain the sun came out again. Unfortunately, there was not a similarly happy ending to either the characters in this story, for the book itself which is now called one of the greatest literary hoaxes, or for the women who do find themselves victims of honour killings and do not have a true voice to speak for them.