Rating - 5/10
I remember when I first saw this book and thought, wow how lovely is this title and cover! I was completely captivated by it! It’s unusual and quite stunning. I then saw that the author’s name seemed like she was from the middle-east/Arab region, and I read the description of the book and was immediately drawn in. I love reading immigration stories, especially from cultures that I’m not very familiar with. I was drawn to this part of the world and wanted to hear from an ‘Own Voice’ author as well (Own Voice authors refers to an author from a marginalized or under-represented group writing about their own experiences/from their own perspective, rather than someone from an outside perspective writing as a character from an underrepresented group). The book is based in Saudi Arabia which sounded intriguing, exotic and interesting. The author is from the same setting as the book, in Jidda, Saudi Arabia and I knew she would be writing from her own experience which always draws me even more to the book. I’d love to thank Tin House Books for sending me a gorgeous advance review copy print of this book! Let’s get on with the plot.
The settings for this book are Jidda, Saudi Arabia & Cleveland, Ohio.
We follow newlywed university students Muneer and Saaedah, who live in a snowy Cleveland, Ohio and are expecting their first child. Muneer secretly wishes to divorce his wife Saaedah. Soon, their marriage ends and Muneer returns to his home country in Saudi Arabia, while Saeedah remains in Cleveland with their little girl, Hanadi. Consumed by a growing fear of losing her daughter, Saaedah runs away with Hanadi leaving Muneer to desperately search for his daughter for many years.
The result of this not only causes the lives of Hanaadi and her parents' lives to change, but also their interwoven family and friends too. Those who now must choose sides and hide their own deeply guarded secrets.
This book cover is simply stunning. If it wasn’t for the mesmerizing title and the cover, I probably wouldn’t even have given this book a second glance! God that sounds terrible but it’s kinda true. They did a fantastic job capturing your attention with those features, so I have to give that to the design team.
I’m going to actually do this review a little differently, I’m going to tell you what I liked about this book, and what I didn’t like. Seeing as you’re probably wondering why I gave this read a rating of 5/10 right?
Let’s start with what I liked about The Bride of the Sea. Other than this beautiful cover and capturing title, I absolutely adored the setting for this book. Not Cleveland Ohio, hahah I’ve been to that part of the country and it’s not exactly much to look at. I meant the setting of Jidda, Saudi Arabia. Wow I do have to give it to the author, she fully took us to her home country with her in depth description of Jidda. It totally felt like you were right there with the characters of this book. I loved the smells, the food, the noises, the feel of what it was like to be in Jidda, the family members, the chaos, the heat, I could go on and on. I just adored it! Seeing as we’re all stuck in this pandemic, one good thing about books is that they completely have the power to transport you to places that you’ve never been and make you feel as if you are right there yourself. It made me want to visit this part of the world too. The author did a great job also describing the life of an ex-pat living in Jidda, I thought this aspect of the book was told really well.
I loved that this book was written by an author who was actually from this part of the world, so you can already guess that she knows exactly what she was talking about. I loved this aspect of the book a lot, and I always feel like ‘Own Voices’ authors always tell a much richer, deeper story as they have that first hand experience of what it is like. I appreciated that a lot.
Another aspect of the book that I enjoyed was the immigration story. I love hearing about different cultures, and no matter what culture people are from, the immigration story is one that if you are an immigrant, you can relate to. So I was very interested in the complete culture clash of someone from the middle-east moving to a far away part of the US that isn’t a sought after location. Down there with the legit true Americans, I found this aspect of the book to be quite fascinating and also very true! From the immigrant’s perspectives. The various stereotypes that immigrants face in western countries is something that hasn’t changed much in years. I liked hearing about the characters’ experiences in the US.
I also loved the close family ties in this book. Especially the scenes in Jidda. Very relatable and they definitely made the book feel rich, warm and familiar.
Now to what I didn’t like about this book. Let’s start with the thing that I look for most in a book, or that I tend to be quite judgy about. The writing. Oh boy...I honestly really did not like the way this book was written. It was too basic and a little messy - I didn’t like the narration aspect of the story which made me feel quite distant to the characters and story. It spans five decades and would seriously jump major years which made the story itself lack a sense of continuity and flow. It was extremely choppy and a bit disjointed. I felt completely lost at times with the plot of the book and didn't feel any sort of attachment to the writing style at all. It definitely wasn’t the best writing that I’ve seen in a book. The writing lacked substance and didn’t blend well. I’ve definitely read books where the story is told from a major time span, decades even, such as The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai, another ‘Own Voice’ author - absolutely brilliant book. But in this book, none of writing or plot at times, made any sense, and sometimes a decade would only get like 2 pages and it just made you feel like, what’s the point? I would find myself losing interest very quickly and almost skim reading which I NEVER do. The story itself never really ‘took off’. It was a slow paced read, which again, I have read a lot of slow paced books that I have enjoyed, such as A Girl is a Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga - another brilliant read and an ‘Own Voice’ author, but with this book, it never reached a climax, which sort of made it feel quite blah in the end. The level of the story always felt very just neutral and bland.
The second point that I will make that is crucial, is the development of characters, or lack of. This was a major shame for me because I really wanted to learn much more about the mother in this story, even the daughter, but every single character in this book sort of appeared in bits and pieces throughout the story so you never really got to know any of the characters in depth at all in this book. We start off learning about the mother and father, Muneer and Saaeda, which I loved, but then soon after we lose touch with the mother and we end up jumping around these massive time spans that would just make you go like -wait what? It’s been 10 years? It was just extremely confusing and disorienting. I never had any attachment at all to any of the characters, they weren’t developed at all in my mind. Which therefore tends to make you not care very much about them.
I swear if it wasn’t for the well described setting of this book, the author’s own voice perspective, the warm family members in the book, this book would have gotten an even worse rating. I will say that I wanted to know how the story was going to end which is why I finished it. It’s a shame because the story itself had something special, and I feel like it really would have been an amazing book. The disjointed massive time lapse for me killed it, the hard grasp on the story and lack of character development failed in my opinion.
I will say that The Bride of the Sea does deal with a lot of interesting issues though, such as immigration, colliding cultures, family ties, religion, self discovery, secrets, loss and healing, and ultimately it is a story about finding your own voice and understanding your family ties. If you like stories about family sagas, different cultures, Immigration, Own Voice authors then add this to your list. I wanted to love it so bad, but what can I say, we can’t love all of the books we read. I still very much appreciate reading this book and learned a lot about Saudi Arabia. It was lovely to get transported to another culture. Also even if I love or hate a book, I will ALWAYS support Own Voices authors. We never hear enough from them and this exactly why I'm still doing Chrissy's Books, to expose these under-represented authors to the book world.
For this song pick, I wanted a track that was a mix between western and Middle-East vibes, seeing as this book is all about culture clash as well. I went with a band that I absolutely love! They are really awesome because they incorporate a lot of world music in their sound. I also wanted a mostly instrumental song that felt quite alluring and inviting like this book! This song definitely takes me to Saudi Arabia, or that part of the world. My song pick is 'Lady & Man' by Khruangbin - Defo check out this band they are amazing! They're from Texas but their sound is quite eclectic.
Genre: Fiction | Coming-Of-Age | Historical Fiction | Domestic Fiction
Publication Date: January 26, 2021
Pages: 312 Pages
Publisher: Tin House Books
Click the link below to purchase on Amazon.