When the Haboob Sings

Fiction - Literary
278 Pages
Reviewed on 06/09/2019
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Author Biography

Nejoud Al-Yagout, a Kuwaiti writer, moved to China with her family when she was two months old. She spent her childhood and teenage years in Italy, UAE, and Pakistan. Al-Yagout is the founder of Co-Exist Kuwait, an initiative to bridge cultural, racial, ideological, social, and financial divides in her country where she is based. When The Haboob Sings is her second novel.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Lesley Jones for Readers' Favorite

In When the Haboob Sings by Nejoud Al-Yagout, Dunya Khair had always noticed the cultural injustices around her but never dared to question them. When her conscience can take it no longer, she dares to speak out for the rights of women and others in a strict, patriarchal society. When her article is published, Dunya finds herself the subject of death threats and derision. Overnight her article sparks controversy and she suddenly finds herself in a cockroach-infested prison cell and denounced publicly by her family. Dunya's article draws attention from around the world and when she is released from prison, Dunya believes she must continue to fight all the injustices around her and tackle subjects that many are afraid to confront. Dunya finds herself in the midst of a scandalous witch hunt; many want to silence her, while others support her from behind closed doors. Dunya's steadfast belief that she must follow her truth and speak out continues but sometimes questioning the status quo has serious consequences.

The subject matter of this incredible story is quite relevant in today's society, where many people are persecuted for addressing cultural and religious practices. Dunya is a wonderful character with such a strong resolve but slowly her mental frailty emerges. The main message I gained, however, is that sometimes it cannot be left to one person to speak out while others agree in the shadows; sometimes you have to spread the risk about for change to occur. The descriptive narrative and behavior of characters that live under strict cultural and religious laws were relayed so realistically, and although many citizens of the West understand the difficulty of speaking out, very few experience the implications of having differing views when it could result in imprisonment or death. The entire plot is filled with shocking twists and revelations, especially the explosive ending. This is such a powerful story that the image of Dunya and her fight for the truth and justice is one that will stay with me for a very long time.

Joel R. Dennstedt

Perhaps the following complimentary comparison first arises from the similarity (to a Westerner) of their names, but Kuwaiti author Nejoud Al-Yagout’s potently concise, deeply incisive, and vigorously expressive writing is strongly reminiscent of the great Egyptian nobel laureate, Naguib Mahfouz. Whether in her articles or her fiction, or the suggestion of both within her latest work, When the Haboob Sings, Ms. Al-Yagout speaks with clarity, immediacy, and the raw insight of a writer most intent on observing without prejudice the fault lines in her culture, her country, and her people. She is unforgiving when applying such penetrating insight toward centuries of tradition or the few decades of her own experience. And she is unflagging in questioning the irrational mores (with their self-serving rationales) that have survived.

The main character of When the Haboob Sings easily resembles a simpler, perhaps more naïve version of the author, Nejoud Al-Yagout, who in turns lets her character appear much more newly formed in her progressive thinking. When she is jailed for publishing an article critical of the national religion, emphasizing her personal right to shed the more restrictive aspects of that religion, she laments her self-admitted fantasy of literary influence: “I saw myself making headline news: Dunya Khair makes strides for her country. Dunya Khair, the awakener. Dunya Khair changes antiquated laws. Dunya Khair abolishes the crime of apostasy.” But Dunya Khair is also daughter, sister, friend, and neighbor to her countrymen, and it is precisely these people who most threaten her freedom to pursue her writing mission. This, with a chorus in her head insisting she is mad. A most intimate, psychological exploration of a modern cultural rebel.

K.C. Finn

When the Haboob Sings is a work of literary dramatic fiction focused on culture and controversy, penned by author Nejoud Al-Yagout. We meet our central character Dunya Khair in prison, where she has painfully assimilated the life now given to her after writing a relatively simple article for a local newspaper. Dunya chose to explore why the local Muslim women of her country are shunned and punished if they choose to marry men outside of the faith, but Muslim men can marry whoever they want and still pass their citizenship down to their children. The article sparks a furore and death threats from traditionalists and begins a rocky road that Dunya must endure, with many fatal choices to make along the way.

Author Nejoud Al-Yagout has a direct narrative voice that connects us to Dunya and her most intimate thoughts right from the novel’s starting point. This close portrayal produces a winding narrative of sidebars, scattered thoughts and deep resilience that made me think of The Yellow Wallpaper, and perhaps Al-Yagout’s work is equally important in what it does for women who have no power in societies dictated by the religion of men. The narrative does an excellent job of jumping into fresh voices with the letters and responses which Dunya receives during her journey, keeping the tale fresh but also offering quite shocking and realistic perspectives on humanity’s fear of change. Overall, When the Haboob Sings is a superb work of fiction highlighting important current issues in culture, and is a highly recommended read.

Asher Syed

When the Haboob Sings by Nejoud Al-Yagout is a literary fiction novel surrounding the main female character, Dunya Khair. A 'haboob', for those who may not know, is an oppressive, violent dust storm. The beautiful double-entendre that the title delivers carries through to the novel itself, where the protagonist Dunya delivers her story in first person present tense (and some diary entries toward the end). She is a writer and an activist in a place where an oppressive storm much like the haboob swirls and destroys around her—forcing her down. Or trying to, at least. This is known and, to some extent, grittingly tolerated...until she pushes the boundary too far. And then, it isn't.

Nejoud Al-Yagout delivers a fantastic piece of modern Fem Lit with When the Haboob Sings, bringing forward a worthy and believable female protagonist in Dunya Khair. Dunya is quick to pull a reader in as she paces about a prison cell, speaking in a biting, acerbic narrative that dances somewhere between a strong differentia and the frailty of an utterly mutilated psyche. She is perseverant but she is also excruciatingly vulnerable. In my eyes, this where Dunya comes to life as an authentic character. She does what she needs to because it is right, but at the same time little thought is often given and her temperament and emotion are usually driving where reason and guile would likely serve her better. This is a character-driven plot that is timely in its release, with a realistic look at what it's like to be an independent, freethinking woman amidst a haboob of objectification and misogyny. This is a story of right here, right now—wherever in the world you might be.

Gisela Dixon

When the Haboob Sings by Nejoud Al-Yagout is a riveting and gripping story that starkly shows the consequences of a lone woman raising her voice for feminism in a deeply extremist patriarchal society. In this book, we basically read about the life of Dunya, a young woman married to Adam, living in a Muslim Middle Eastern country. The book starts off with Dunya in her prison cell and the conditions in it. She then reflects and goes back to how this all started for her a couple of years back when an incident happened in a local gathering and she was prompted to write an article about gender inequality and sexism in society. Since then, she wrote others and the hate mail, death threats, and violence, both verbal and physical, that she and her family members endured, the social ostracization, etc. are depicted starkly. Through all this, she also endures prison, a breakdown of her mental and physical health, the loss of her father, marital issues with her husband because he is not as strong as her, and much more. This is her story told in her own words.

When the Haboob Sings is a fantastic book and although fiction, it is realistic and shines a bright light on real-life issues and scenarios where women’s rights are still mocked and suppressed and women are made out to be like infantile children, only useful for sex, reproduction, and slavery to men. Nejoud has portrayed the central character of Dunya very well, a woman whose combination of guts and forward thinking is real and commendable. Although many women feel the way she does, many are afraid to speak up or do anything about it. This book starkly presents the good, the bad, and the ugly that women must face any time they make a basic demand for gender equality. This book is a must-read for women all over the world, and for men as well to understand the workings and psyche of a patriarchal society and what we can all do to change it.