Dancing on Arrowheads, translated by Nayiri Mississian, provides a glimpse of life in Saudi Arabia for a young woman on a journey of self-discovery.
Protagonist al-Batool is a hub at the center of several storylines that are not always clearly linked through a structured plot. Among them, she chafes at her overbearing father’s rules and restrictions but manages to find some freedom (while she’s not allowed to drive, she holds a job and has a young boyfriend she keeps hidden). Divorced, she may be newly in love with a third, older man. Often overwhelmed by emotion, she spends hours in her room writing or engaged in internal monologues. And at one point, she grapples with a friend who has plagiarized her work.
There are some powerful observations here, and the dynamics between women and men, as well as the competitive energy between women, ring true and are well-rendered. But several problems make the book hard to follow: The lack of a linear plot makes it difficult for readers to invest in al-Batool; we don’t know what she wants or is aiming for. Additionally, al-Batool’s writings and internal musings are included in the text but not set off with italics or otherwise signaled; the narrative simply jumps from third to first person, which is jarring. The writing also can meander: “As my subconscious mind watched your naked soul, my waves carried you to the shore of my compassion, and docked you at the port, where I could examine the yellow rust on your ship—the extent of your vanity.”
The story’s translation appears to be skilled in general, although there are a few questionable word choices. Overall, however, the lack of a clear beginning, middle and end means that readers will find it hard to see a true heroine in al-Batool.
Also available as an ebook.