2.5 out of 5: In this “memoir,” Lebanese writer Hanan Al-Shaykh tells the story of her mother Kamila. Forced into marriage when only 14 years old and when in love with another man, Kamila spends the rest of her life seeking happiness and love within the constraints of an oppressive society. Al-Shaykh’s fictionalized portrayal, written as a first-person account of Kamila’s life from early youth through death, provides a rare insider’s view into a cloistered world.
Kamila narrates her story with refreshing directness, but the simplicity of the prose often lacks lyricism and emotion. Further, while I respect Kamila’s unrelenting strength in the face of great oppression, I was repeatedly frustrated by her ever-present superficiality and immaturity. In typical fashion, when a neighbor gives Kamila a coin to make a devotion to Sitt Zaynab during a pilgrimmage, Kamila decides to keep the coin for herself: "Forgive me, Sitt Zaynab. ... You've so many jewels here. Let me keep this coin. Let's pretend I've put the coin inside the enclosure." In another instance, stuck in a horrible predicament, Kamila makes a promise to God that she will never set foot in her lover's room again if God will protect her from discovery. God delivered his half of the bargain, but Kamila "found I wasn't putting on my shoes and going home." Undoubtedly, such falseness was necessary for Kamila’s survival, but it’s not a particularly likeable trait in a protagonist. The Locust and the Bird reveals an unknown and interesting world in a less-than-compelling way.