The Dove's Necklace
Winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2011
When the body of a young woman is discovered in the Lane of Many Heads, an alley in modern-day Mecca, no one will claim it, as they are all ashamed of her nakedness. As Detective Nasser pursues his investigation of the case, seemingly all of Mecca chimes in―including the Lane of Many Heads itself―in this brilliant, funny, profane, and enigmatic fever dream of a novel by Raja Alem, the first woman to win the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
Nasser initially suspects that the dead woman is Aisha, one of the residents of the Area, and he searches her emails for clues. The world she paints embraces everything from crime and religious extremism to the exploitation of foreign workers by a mafia of building contractors, who are destroying the historic areas of the city. In stark relief with this grimness is the beauty of her love letters to her German boyfriend. Another view reveals the city through the eyes of Yusuf, Aisha's neighbor, increasingly frustrated by the acceleration pace of change.
As gripping as classic noir, nuanced as a Nabokov novel, and labyrinthine as the alleys of Mecca itself, this powerful and disturbing work of fiction masterfully reveals a city and a civilization in all its contradictions, at once beholden to brutal customs and uneasily coming to terms with new traditions. Raja Alem's singular The Dove's Necklace is a virtuosic work of literature that deserves the world's attention.
Praise for The Dove's Necklace
'It is in the portrayal of Mecca, the rituals that take place around the Kaaba (the mausoleum), the spiritual and the profane unfolding side by side, the desire for freedom and ploys to survive of the dwellers of Abourrous―these new Saudi Arabians who come from Africa, Asia or Turkey―that Raja Alem really excels, revealing the Islamic heartland that the media alludes to without ever really telling us anything.' – Le Monde
'Raja Alem is a great voice...' – Frankfurter Allgemeine
'Overwhelmingly well told, full of atmosphere, sensual and intelligent.' – Die Press, Vienna
'Alem is a modern Scheherazade. Her world is always believable, and no wonder...it originates from Mecca itself.' – Berner Zeitung
The book is filled with strong women, beginning with the two possible victims, Aisha and Azza, very different from one another, but both open-minded, combative, and able to challenge the rules and the men around them, despite living in a female population that is subjugated and oppressed. Raja Alem reveals an unexpected side to Saudi women, also confronting taboo subjects such as sex. – F
'Raja Alem's reputation in contemporary Arabic literature [is] similar to Nabokov's in ours: masterful, erudite, witty, and somewhat dangerous.' – Bomb
'The real mystery here is Mecca itself, with the intricacies of its customs and new ways of life seen through many lenses . . . This intriguing narrative style . . . fits the mysteries of Mecca.' – Booklist