On January 10th we welcomed in the new year with an exception with our bilingual mandate for a discussion of The Sand Fish by Dubai’s very own Maha Gargash. The Sand Fish is readily available in local bookstores, however is only available in English.
Set in the 1950s in what is now the United Arab Emirates, The Sand Fish tells the poignant and powerful story of a rebellious young woman trapped in a repressive society. Coming of age in the 1950s, seventeen-year-old Noora is unlike other women of the sun-battered mountains at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Though she shares their poverty and, like them, bears life’s hardships without complaint, she is also fiery and independent. Following the death of her mother and her father’s descent into dazed madness, Noora flees the threat of an arranged marriage, only to be driven back to her unwanted fate by disappointment and heartbreak. As the third wife to a rich, much older man, Noora struggles to adjust to her new home by the sea, thinking of herself as a sand fish—the desert lizard she observed in the mountains, which, when stuck in the wrong place and desperate to escape, smashed itself again and again into unyielding rocks. But then a light is shone into her miserable darkness, resulting in an unexpected passion, a shocking indiscretion, and a secret that could jeopardize Noora’s life.
Maha Gargash was born in Dubai. In 1985, she joined Dubai Radio and Television to pursue her interest in documentaries. Through directing television programs, which deal mainly with traditional Arab societies, she became involved in research and scriptwriting, work which evolved into The Sand Fish.
Our discussion included questions of the line between historical fiction and narrative, the evolution of the characters, the connection between the UAE’s past and present…even the difficulty of publishing in Arabic and the market trends that shape how books from Arab authors are presented to Western audiences. We’re curious to learn more about Gargash’s upcoming book, which we hear is a fiction work based in contemporary Dubai, and her past documentary work.