Desperate in Dubai


Desperate in Dubai

Desperate in Dubai by Ameera Al Hakawati

I’ve been reading the books sent to me by Random House India (Desperate in Dubai being one of them), but what with the December hiatus and things that kept me worked up and worked out in January, I haven’t posted reviews.

I read Desperate in Dubai about two months ago, so my memory is a little hazy. I stuck in post-it notes though, which are now helping me remember details. You can read an excerpt here.

My Declared Bias: I read and write Literary, and only occasionally read Chick Lit. Since Desperate in Dubai is a sort of cross between chick lit and women’s contemporary writing, that might influence my view of it a little.

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This is the story of four women and their somewhat interconnected lives. Lady Luxe, a Dubai heiress; Leila, an opportunistic social climber; Nadia, a betrayed wife, and Sugar, a victim of tragic circumstances.

Of these, the most interesting is definitely Lady Luxe, who leads a double life, one as burkha-clad traditional daughter of the family; and the other as a hedonist, no stranger to alcohol, men, and high jinks. Her voice is also the most powerful.

The slightly grey character of Leila is also well-sketched with the right amount of details:

Fully aware that a designer ensemble compared to an ordinary outfit is like the difference between Nobu and a filet-o-fish burger at McDonald’s, she unconsciously tugs at her Top-Shop leopard print boob tube dress and runs her fingers through her big blonde hair.

Though, imho, the writing could be better. Does the author mean ‘self-consciously’? Do we need that adverb at all? The author is already showing Leila’s state of mind through the action: ‘tugs at her Top-Shop leopard print boob tube dress and runs her fingers through her big blonde hair.’

In the very next para the author moves into Lady Luxe’s head, which leads to a series of head-hopping passages that could be avoided. Either stick to 3rd person, or omniscient point-of-view, can’t have both. It confuses readers and make them dizzy. (Hope it wasn’t just me.)

Sugar and Nadia, despite their tragic situations, failed to elicit any empathy,  perhaps because of their tired story-lines (which the author has tried to enliven through interconnection). It could also be because I’m a major fan of ‘voice’ and both of these ladies lacked luster.

Why you could read it: It is an easy read, and if you’re fascinated by the Middle East and its culture, the nuances of contemporary life, and the status of women, this might be a fascinating read. This may not be representative of the entire Arab world, but it is a good glimpse.

Why you could give it a miss: I imagine women finding this book interesting, but most men I know steer clear of contemporary women’s writing. And Chick lit. Just saying.

My cribs:

1. The head-hopping annoyed me. The whole book could easily have been edited to avoid this.

2. I didn’t like the use of pseudonyms for Lady Luxe and Sugar, seemed like a deliberate ploy to maintain surprises/ twists. Unnecessary.

3. For a book with feminist undertones/ overtones — the ending disappointed me. Without giving any spoilers, all I can say is that the ending for each character’s story is where I found a conflict between a chick-lit and women’s contemporary writing. The genre-blending did not work at this point.

To sum it up, this book is good as an in-flight read, or if you’re in the mood for light reading. I enjoyed the glimpses into Dubai society, and duly hated all the men as I was meant to — excellent portrait of a patriarchal setup. The only truly sympathetic man in the whole book is Lady Luxe’s step-brother.

Overall, this is an auspicious debut, with excellent premise. I only hope the author finds herself a better editor for her next book.

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My second review here is just as unvarnished as the first, but I realized I was also reading like a writer, and not merely a reader.  As a result, I’m not sure the review format worked.

What would you like to see changed in the format? Was this review helpful?

  Inspired by the fascinating lives of the women who dominated the glamorous city, Ameera Al Hakawati put pen to paper and created Desperate in Dubai, a blog that soon became an internet sensation among the expatriate community in Dubai. Desperate in Dubai is Ameera’s first novel published by Random House India. You can buy the book here.