Dunya Khair is a 30-something journalist living under Muslim law. When she publishes a series of honest articles expressing critiques of current patriarchal systems and discussing controversial topics (primarily centered around gender equality and apostasy), she experiences more than the anticipated mixture of backlash and acclaim. Set in an unspecified Arabian country, When the Haboob Sings by Nejoud Al-Yagout follows the tribulations of a young woman caught up in the injustices of her society through a cause-and-effect plotline, providing an enlightening, vivid, and deeply poignant novel of self-integrity and authenticity.
This story is immediately engrossing. The straightforward, almost abrupt narration allows for a quick-paced and intriguing read, leaving little room for lulls or unnecessary chatter between characters or from the narrator. The topics discussed quickly become heavy, however, as Dunya experiences mental stress, trauma, and several breakdowns throughout. This doesn’t make the read unenjoyable, but it shouldn’t be expected to be a light pool-side book either. It’s closer to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar than Ann Brashares’ Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
The writing style feels somewhat reminiscent of a Margaret Atwood novel in terms of voice. The poetic, visually-centric and more figurative than literal narrative descriptions and comments evoke vivid mental images clearly and succinctly. It’s unique, potent, and rich in both phrasing and tone, without feeling long-winded, sticky, or verbose. This concise yet expressive method is difficult to fully render as readers can sometimes become lost if the author leans too heavily on one side. Al-Yagout manages to walk this fine line gracefully, creating a colorfully-written novel that remains interesting from start to finish.
Told in first person and seemingly directed to the reader, When the Haboob Sings allows for deeper character-reader connection and understanding within the plot. The gritty, witty, and unabashedly honest prose is another reason why similarities between both Atwood’s writing and perhaps even some of Gillian Flynn’s books may be felt. Those who enjoy either of these authors may find Al-Yagout’s work equally as enjoyable. In several instances, the main character (and narrator) of this novel has a way of admitting or realizing frank, often ugly or at least unattractive and earnestly intimate confessions of self to the reader that can make one stop reading for a second and marvel at the perhaps undesirable yet honestly candid truths of humanity, while guiltilly relating to such confessions with ardent enjoyment.
When the Haboob Sings by Nejoud Al-Yagout covers politics and the freedom of speech while discussing family and marital relationships during trying times, inner strife with religious faith, and the psychological impact of publicly challenging Muslim government and law in a restrictive culture through the perspective of a somewhat self-obsessed, anxiously troubled woman. Khair’s story is thought-provoking, honest, and strongly based within real society, despite being a work of fiction. The drama of the initial plotline draws one in, while the raw, realistic, and undoubtedly honest relationships and interactions between characters (and the narrator’s relationship with herself) makes one stay until the end and ultimately make it an all around worthwhile and moving piece of fiction in several notable ways.