Sarah A. Al Shafei: Yummah
I am assuming that this novel is as much a memoir as a novel, as the main character has a grandchild called Sarah who, like the author, married a Saudi and had two children. The main character is Khadeeja. We first meet her as a twelve year old, living in Bahrain with her mother. Her father had died in a shipwreck and her two older brothers are working in Dubai. She is playing with her doll, Layla, when her mother informs her that she (Khadeeja) is to be married the following week. Khadeeja is naturally somewhat perturbed. She herself admits that she is still very much a child. However, she enjoys the week of preparations, including dressing up. Of course, she has yet to meet either her future husband or her future-in-laws. However, when she does meet her new husband, Mohammed, he turns out to be very kind and gentle. They have a lovely house by the sea, which she enjoys. Mohammed works as a nurse, which is a good, well-paid job.
We learn of Khadeeja’s various pregnancies. She has nine children and two miscarriages. One boy dies when quite young from a scorpion bite. However, apart from that tragedy and her mother’s death, things go well and she is happy. However, while she is pregnant with the ninth child, Mohammed tells her that he has a better job and they are going to move. They move to a rented house, which is clearly much smaller and not nearly as nice as their first house. Khadeeja knows that something is wrong but cannot find out what. One day, while she is still pregnant, Mohammed leaves for the day and never returns. Khadeeja is left without money and unaware of what is happening. Only when she contacts her brother, Hassan, in Dubai does she learn that Mohammed is in Dubai and has married a rich woman. Hassan returns to Bahrain to look after his sister and nephews and nieces.
The rest of the book is how Khadeeja copes with bringing up her children, with the help of Hassan. They had had little contact before, as he was much older than her and left for Dubai when a teenager, after their father died. Khadeeja’s story is a long struggle. There is further tragedy in her life. Her children all turn out differently, one marrying a Christian, for example, to her mother’s horror, while another turns out to be very religious and voluntarily wears the hijab. Some of her children have unsuccessful marriages. Meanwhile, we also follow the story of Mohammed in Dubai, who is regretting his decision and is unhappy and suffering from poor health.
The book really is a loving tribute to a hard-working, long-suffering grandmother who successfully brought up a large family and had numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren but who kept up her spirits and her good heart through it all. However, it also shows the change in Bahraini society and culture during the period of her life and that does make it a more fascinating read for us.
First published in 2005 by Athena Press