Denied her voice, even the freedom to ask questions, al-Muqri’s ill-fated heroine remains nameless. As a female she is simply a ‘Hurma’ – literally ‘sanctity’, an entity to be protected from violation. Growing up in the stifling and oppressive atmosphere of her childhood home in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, Hurma’s story intersects with those of her elder siblings, Lula and Abd al-Raqeeb. Lula’s overt sexuality is a foil to Hurma’s staunch conservatism. For Lula sex offers a form of resistance and empowerment, although one that will ultimately result in her destruction. In contrast, their brother, Abd al-Raqeeb undergoes an overnight transformation from an avowed socialist, contemptuous of his father’s piety, to a religious extremist; a conversion triggered by sexual jealously over his new wife.
Hurma’s passionless marriage to a man whose impotency is a cruel reflection of her inability to shape her reality, is the first in a catalogue of farcical disappointments. She journeys across the Middle East: from Yemen to a militant training camp in Sudan and onto Afghanistan to join the Jihadist cause. On her eventual return home, ever crueller twists of fate await her as her search for spiritual and sexual fulfilment leads to disastrous consequences.
Turning the classic coming of age story on its head, Ali al-Muqri’s fresh and darkly humorous narrative takes an irreverent swipe at the profound hypocrisy that hides behind fanatical religious dogma. With its confessional tone, Hurma’s direct and unflinching account is as painful as it is comic.