Only the locust can catch the bird….

July 11, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Posted in Biography | 1 Comment

Hanan Al Shaykh, ‘The Locust and the Bird’ Bloomsbury, April 2010

The Locust and the Bird is an interesting story for two reasons. It is the story of a mother documented by her daughter. This is more necessary than you think as the mother, Kamila, is illiterate. It is also an insight into an Islamic woman’s world in 1930’s Lebanon and Beirut as finally understood by her daughter in 2001, remotely both geographically and culturally in New York. It could have easily been different. As autobiographical stories that grow out of stories of suffering and diaspora can be hard to tell. But Hanan Al-Shaykh’s skills as a writer create a tender evocation of her mother’s life story.

Hanan Al-Shaykh is an accomplished writer with four novels and a short story collection already behind her. She explains in the prologue that each time she had a new book published her mother beseeched her daughter to write her life story until finally Hanan agreed.

It is Hanan’s reportage style that sustains this autobiography making it good reading. A poignant story of when Kamila was forced into marriage at the age of thirteen, subjected to brutality by many of the men in her life only to find true love in her later years. Having been denied an education Kamila’s ideas of love are developed through her visits to the cinema and the relationships she sees in the Arab language films in vogue at the time. Hanan paints an evocate portrait of south Lebanon where the mother grew up and balances the dark humanity in her mother’s story with the bustling noise and life of Beirut city.

At times my interest in the story waned I must admit and I believe it was my compulsion to Hanan’s style of writing that kept me turning the pages.  There is an eerie sense that this was the right time for Hanan to write her mother’s story after years of her mother pleading. It is appropriate and accomplished of Hanan to use New York of 2001 and modern life to finally interpret her mothers story of 1930’s Lebanon and to make it understandable by a wider audience.

As Hanan mandates at the beginning of writing her mother’s story ; ‘Wails and tales. My life story is one long revelation. Only the locust can capture the bird.’

Haiku; Using the present, to interpret the past, is interesting.

Click here to view this book on

1 Comment »

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  1. I’ve just started reading this myself. I’ll be interested to see whether I agree with you or not

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