Mai Al-Nakib: “Naaseha’s Counsel”

15 June, 2022
Arab slave mar­ket, paint­ing by José Navar­ro y Llorens (cour­tesy artvee).

 

“Naaseha’s Coun­sel” is a fic­tion­al­ized por­trait loose­ly con­nect­ed to Mai Al-Nakib’s recent­ly pub­lished debut nov­el, An Unlast­ing Home. The nov­el con­tains a num­ber of periph­er­al char­ac­ters, whose lives cap­ti­vat­ed their author. Writ­ing short por­traits became a way for her to explore them fur­ther. Although Naase­ha her­self does not appear in An Unlast­ing Home, she would have been part of the con­text of ear­ly twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Bas­ra described in it. Naeema, a friend of Naaseha’s men­tioned here, does appear in the nov­el as a house­keep­er who works for Yas­mine (one of the main char­ac­ters) in Kuwait in 1954. The ages don’t match up, but the name and back­ground do.

As Al-Nakib was research­ing that Bas­ra con­text, she came across pho­tos of Africans among the mem­bers of house­holds of some of the wealthy fam­i­lies liv­ing there at the time. While aware of the under­ex­am­ined his­to­ry of slav­ery in the Gulf region, she didn’t know much about it, and brought up the issue with her father, who grew up in Bas­ra as a young boy. He told her about a woman named Naase­ha, albeit recall­ing only the scant­est details, and yet the sto­ry haunt­ed her. Al-Nakib says she wrote “Naaseha’s Coun­sel” as a way to tie some of those details togeth­er and to broach this bleak, for­got­ten his­to­ry of the region through the human­i­ty of a sin­gle voice.

 

Mai Al-Nakib

 

“I must have been a year old, maybe a year and a half, when I was stolen off the con­ti­nent of Africa. I remem­ber noth­ing of the place we van­ished from, my moth­er, my sis­ter, and I. I’ve been told we land­ed on Zanz­ibar first — island with the mag­i­cal name — and then were shipped off to Kuwait on a dhow pushed up by the mon­soon winds, stored like dates and man­grove poles in the low­er cabin.

“My ear­li­est mem­o­ries are scraps of life in Kuwait Town with my moth­er and sis­ter, their names as veiled as my place of birth. I remem­ber wind­ing alley­ways, yel­low mud­bricks, and the dev­il­ish dust. I remem­ber play­ing in the court­yard of the house that owned my moth­er. I hear myself laugh­ing with my sis­ter at dawn. She was only a feath­er taller than me, so she couldn’t have been much old­er. She untan­gled my hair with a pink comb. She made tiny dolls out of cloth rem­nants and stray rib­bons. We stared at crawl­ing ants, trac­ing nar­row paths in the sand with our fin­gers, some­times lead­ing them in oppo­site direc­tions from each oth­er. It makes me cry when I think of those poor ants now. I remem­ber two oth­er small chil­dren in the court­yard. They played with us sometimes.

An Unlast­ing Home is avail­able from Mariner Books.

“My moth­er would seat my sis­ter and me out on the decheh, the mud­brick bench fac­ing the sea that ran along the front of the house. She would order us to stay put. Some days the water was flat as a sil­ver mir­ror. Oth­er days it raged like angry white sol­diers. When the sand­storms blew in, my moth­er would pluck us off the bench, a child under each arm, and rush back into the house, pulling the heavy door behind her. Cla-cluk was the sound it made. I would bury my face deep in her bosom, fill my nos­trils with the smell of her sweat and the rose water she must have sprin­kled on her clothes. Her smell blend­ed with the smell of dust in the air. It fills my nose even still, old woman that I am, few teeth left in my mouth. I always believed that smell would lead me back to her.

“It hap­pened one day when my sis­ter and I were out­side. It must have been ear­ly morn­ing because the sun, not yet over­head, warmed my right cheek. Strong hands lift­ed me up from under my armpits. Not my mother’s hands. Rough hands with vio­lence run­ning through their veins, nails that pierced through my tat­tered dress, cut­ting into my flesh. I screamed as loud as I could. My voice filled my throat and ears. I remem­ber my sister’s round ani­mal eyes and her voice ris­ing up with mine, then drown­ing it out. I remem­ber dark­ness, my head bounc­ing back­wards, my sound­less, shaky cry­ing. I remem­ber fear wrap­ping my body like a sec­ond skin. I could no longer hear my sis­ter. Did she run inside to call our moth­er? Did our moth­er dash out before my sis­ter had the chance to get her? Our moth­er was nev­er far. Sweep­ing or cook­ing or mend­ing things. Or mind­ing those two oth­er chil­dren. I always felt her close.

“I don’t remem­ber any­thing after that.  I lived in a rubbed out space for a long time. That blur of for­get­ting pro­tect­ed me, I think, until I was ready. 

“I was about three years old when I end­ed up a slave in Bas­ra, Iraq, in the palace of the Pasha of that town. From what my fam­i­ly tells me, I arrived in the 1890s, no one is cer­tain of the exact year. When I say my fam­i­ly, I mean the fam­i­ly I belonged to. They bought me, along with two oth­er young girls, from the men who stole us. I was the youngest. I asked my Mama Ami­na — one of the Pasha’s four wives — why the fam­i­ly had want­ed to own me, a use­less lit­tle girl. She said that they often bought young ones, raised them in the big house, almost but not quite part of the fam­i­ly, so that they would stay loy­al. It worked. I’ve been loy­al to my family.

“I grew up with the brood of chil­dren from the Pasha’s many wives and the young slaves of the house. We played and ate togeth­er, spent most of our time side by side. Dur­ing the flam­ing after­noons, we swam in the large foun­tain of what was known as the Slave’s Palace. The Slave’s Palace was not a palace where the slaves lived. It was a leisure house the father of the Pasha had once used as a retreat from Kuwait Town. The Pasha’s old father lived in Kuwait, not Iraq. But when he would come up to Bas­ra, he pre­ferred to stay in the Slave’s Palace rather than in his own. With the pret­ti­er slaves, I expect. By the time I arrived, the Pasha’s father rarely vis­it­ed Bas­ra any­more. We kids had the run of the place dur­ing the day­light hours, splash­ing in the foun­tain, fly­ing like jinn through the cor­ri­dors of the build­ing, scram­bling up and down the euca­lyp­tus tree in the mid­dle of the large court­yard. With the house chil­dren, we were close as but­tons, unlike own­ers and slaves out­side our palace. We called it our palace. It was, any­way, a kind of paradise.

“We slaves didn’t go to school with the oth­ers, but some of us were schooled at the house by one of the old­er slaves and some­times by a reli­gious tutor. The words that came out of Sheikh Ahmed’s mouth calmed my wretched soul, allow­ing me to rest, for a time, in the grace of des­tiny. It’s eas­i­er to believe in fate than to reck­on with the rage of the world. From Sheikh Ahmed I learned to recite the Qur’an, and I learned to sur­ren­der to the will of God.

My name, as you know, means coun­selor. How could they have known when they named me that I would be coun­selor to many? For what­ev­er rea­son, they pegged me as wise.

“When the chil­dren came home, they would share with us what they had learned at school that day. Khal­doun, my Mama Amina’s eldest son — your grandfather’s old­est broth­er — taught me how to read. Read­ing didn’t come easy to me like it did to him, but I loved words and mem­o­rized as many of them as I could. Mama Ami­na, who was Turk­ish, would say to me, ‘Nev­er you mind, ya Naase­ha. Ara­bic is unfor­giv­ing. It doesn’t wel­come out­siders like us. You’re bet­ter off learn­ing how to sew or cook, skills you can use to keep peo­ple close to you. Learn how to make a pacheh they lick their fin­gers after, and you’ll have these sil­ly pashas eat­ing out of your hands for­ev­er.’ She wasn’t wrong. 

“My name, as you know, means coun­selor. How could they have known when they named me that I would be coun­selor to many? For what­ev­er rea­son, they pegged me as wise. Even when I was a young chick, mem­bers of the fam­i­ly and oth­er slaves would flock to me for advice. I took my role seri­ous­ly, find­ing a place in the acci­den­tal ideas oth­ers had of me. I would lis­ten as long as it took for them to explain their prob­lem. What every­one wants, ya habu­ba, what each of us is des­per­ate for, is to be heard. I absorbed their wor­ries in silence, bead by bead. They’d ask me what to do about their cheat­ing hus­bands and nasty moth­ers-in-law, their naughty chil­dren and pesky neigh­bors. But also, they’d spread before me like a hand of cards their bur­den of secret regrets. No mat­ter how hard they nagged for a response, I wouldn’t say a thing until one night had passed. Then, the next morn­ing, I would tell them what I believed they should do. Some­times they fol­lowed my coun­sel, oth­er times they did not. If they didn’t, they’d hit their fore­heads with their open palms and moan, ‘Akh, ya Naase­ha, we should have lis­tened to you. We should have listened.’

“Mama Ami­na trust­ed me with her heart. She insist­ed I sleep in her room, which I did until she died. She was like I am now, all bones and sel­dom hun­gry. But she kept that glint in her eyes until the end. She loved to talk, and she trea­sured my opin­ions. We’d back and forth for hours, me rub­bing her arms and her feet, which ached like mine do now. Her chil­dren loved me, and her grand­chil­dren love me. And now you, ya habu­ba — great-grand­daugh­ter of the Pasha him­self — here you are at my bed­side, my death so near I can taste it, rub­bing my arms like I rubbed hers, ask­ing me to reveal for­got­ten things. But you’re ask­ing the wrong ques­tions, child, ques­tions as off tar­get as your grandfather’s and grandun­cles’ ques­tions were, a life­time ago.

“The Pasha was a fright­en­ing man, and he sought advice from no one. He was away often, and we were relieved about that. It was said that if a preg­nant slave hap­pened to fall under the Pasha’s black eyes, she would instant­ly lose the baby. I didn’t wit­ness this myself — no doubt it was an exag­ger­a­tion — but that didn’t stop us from believ­ing it. His gaze could freeze you in your tracks, make you feel as guilty as if you’d stolen gold from the cof­fers, and afraid for your life. None of us came to much harm at the hands of the Pasha, but that did noth­ing to dimin­ish his menace.

“When King Faisal the First was being con­sid­ered by the British to rule Iraq, he was informed that his roy­al posi­tion wouldn’t be secure unless he had the sup­port of the Pasha of Bas­ra. So, he called on our Pasha to pay his respects. An extrav­a­gant din­ner was orga­nized. We worked in steam­ing kitchens for days prepar­ing more food than you could dream pos­si­ble. The King arrived with his entourage, and we all stood in the gar­dens to wel­come him. We saw our Pasha greet him stiffly, his head tilt­ed, his nose lift­ed. For the rest of the night, the Pasha hard­ly said a word. Over din­ner he stared at the King with those stormy eyes of his, stone-still in his seat. We could see the King squirm­ing in place as we served course after course of food. The King kept glanc­ing to the left, to the right, des­per­ate for some­one to save him. The Pasha didn’t shift his eyes away for a sec­ond. As soon as sweets and tea were served, the King made his excus­es and scram­bled out the door like a fright­ened gazelle. I think he believed the Pasha was plan­ning to slit his throat after din­ner! We laughed and laughed after­wards as we gob­bled up the treats our hands had made. ‘Leave it to our Pasha to scare off the King of Iraq!’ We felt proud that night.

“Whis­pers about the Pasha’s intrigues swirled through the palace, but we didn’t dare utter a word about it. As I’ve said, the Pasha didn’t ask advice from any­one. That’s because he didn’t trust a soul, not even his wives or sons. But one time, and one time only, he asked me. It hap­pened soon after the great tri­umph of the King’s ban­quet, short­ly before the Pasha’s exile to Cey­lon by the British. I was sit­ting under the calm green of the palms, my feet dipped in one of the cool canals that watered the date plan­ta­tions. It was a hid­den cor­ner I had dis­cov­ered as a child, a place with­out peo­ple, with­out much sun­light, ring­ing with bird­song, and thick with the smell of soil. I returned to that place again and again, col­lect­ing, in frag­ments, my lost mem­o­ries, look­ing for something—some thing—that wasn’t there. In over thir­ty years, I had only ever run into date-pick­ers scal­ing the trees with their bare feet, so imag­ine my shock when I saw the Pasha him­self strolling along the edge of the canal toward me. I jumped up, ready to scat, when he put up his hand to indi­cate I should stay. ‘What’s your name?’

“‘Naa…seha.’ I couldn’t keep the quiver out of my voice.

“‘Naase­ha.’ He paused. ‘Are you?’

“‘They say I am, ya Seyyi­di al-Pasha.’

“‘What would you coun­sel me, ya Naaseha?’

“I hes­i­tat­ed. I had noticed some­thing dur­ing the King’s ban­quet that I was sure no one else had, cer­tain­ly not the Pasha. The King, despite his ter­ror, appeared a man with an expand­ing future. The Pasha, despite his dis­play of pow­er — no, because of it — appeared a man of the past. How could I express this to the mighty Pasha with­out dying?

“He must have sensed my reluc­tance. ‘Say what you will, Naase­ha. You are under my protection.’

“‘Ya Seyyi­di, I coun­sel you to beware of false promis­es.’ The Pasha nod­ded his approval; he was used to pro­tect­ing him­self against betray­al. Then I took a deep breath and said the thing I real­ly meant to say. ‘And beware your own pride.’

“The Pasha’s eyes nar­rowed to black slits, and I was sure he was going to stran­gle me with his hands. Instead, after a sec­ond or two, he threw back his head and roared. He pat­ted me gen­tly on the shoul­der and con­tin­ued on his way.

“Many of the slaves in Bas­ra owned by oth­er wealthy fam­i­lies, when asked in the street who they belonged to, would give the name of the Pasha’s fam­i­ly, even though it wasn’t true. This con­tin­ued even after the Pasha was dead, when slaves were bought and sold no more. We kept our family’s name, even after we didn’t belong to them. What choice did we have? I don’t know who my real father was. Was he stolen from our home­land with us? Did he sell us him­self? That hap­pened some­times. Des­per­a­tion forces unspeak­able things. I don’t blame my father, not any­more. I choose to believe my father was a slave like us and that our fam­i­ly was sep­a­rat­ed in Zanz­ibar. This was a sto­ry worn thin from retelling by oth­er slaves in our big house. It may as well be my sto­ry too. My poor father. My poor, poor mother.

“Some of the slaves pur­chased by the fam­i­ly as chil­dren didn’t remem­ber any­thing about their moth­ers or fathers or sib­lings. I was lucky. I may not have been able to bring to mind a sin­gle detail about my father, but I still car­ried my mother’s smell and my pre­cious sister’s scream in the daz­zling light. I could still feel my mother’s heart thud­ding against my small chest as I slept curled against her. Some­times I would wake up with the ghost of my sister’s fin­gers wrapped around my own. I was luck­i­er than many who remem­bered noth­ing at all. A hol­low gap in their hearts and minds in place of their own flesh and blood.

“But even with these dia­monds tucked in my soul, fear suf­fo­cates me, and it feels like I’m drown­ing in the Shatt. Night­mares choke me awake in the mid­dle of the night, even still, when time should have healed those wounds. I promised so many moth­ers who lost their chil­dren and so many chil­dren who lost their moth­ers that time would ease their pain. I wasn’t lying. Time heals, but not every­thing. Not the anguish of being stolen from your unknown land and father. Not the hor­ror of being ripped from your only moth­er and sis­ter. The pas­sage of time inter­rupts and it dis­tracts, but it can’t heal that.

“I grew up with Mama Amina’s boys. They were my broth­ers. They knew my sor­rows. When we were young, they used to beg me to tell them the sto­ry of my sec­ond abduc­tion. ‘Do you remem­ber see­ing his face, Naase­ha? Did you see his nails or just feel them on your skin? Why did your moth­er leave you out­side? Do you think he threw you in a burlap sack? What did it smell like? Why don’t you remem­ber any­thing after that?’ And on and on they would go. To them, it was a pirate’s adven­ture. To me, it was walk­ing through fire.

“As we got old­er, they asked about oth­er details, like you do now. What did my moth­er look like? How old was my sis­ter? Describe the house. Describe the view from the bench. Did I remem­ber any­thing at all about the loca­tion? They probed and probed till I pushed them away, exhaust­ed and fright­ened, tears in my eyes. They would send word to Kuwait. The fam­i­ly had many con­tacts there. Who were the men who stole the chil­dren of slaves? In a small town, sure­ly the iden­ti­ty of these ban­dits would be com­mon knowl­edge. But every reply to their inquiries was anoth­er dis­ap­point­ment for me. After the tenth dis­ap­point­ment, I decid­ed to go see for myself. That’s when I asked for the first trip to be arranged.

“It was just before the start of the first great war of the for­eign­ers. I must have been in my ear­ly twen­ties. I asked Mama Ami­na if one of her sons would take me to Kuwait Town. I believed that if I could wan­der the alleys for myself, I would locate my miss­ing moth­er and sis­ter. I was cer­tain they would be in the same house. I was con­vinced I would rec­og­nize the bench fac­ing the sea. Although I was only around three when I last saw it, my dreams of that moment were as clear as desert rain. I was cer­tain I could find the house. Mama Ami­na spoke to her eldest son, who planned my first trip back to Kuwait in twen­ty-odd years. 

“We arrived by sea and every­thing looked new. I rec­og­nized noth­ing of the old town. All the images in my head shat­tered into a thou­sand pieces, and I cried because with­out those images, I had noth­ing. Khal­doun put his arm around me and told me not to wor­ry. We walked through the fir­jan, alley by alley, from Sharq to Jibla, until the sun set. We spent the night at the Pasha’s father’s home, and ear­ly the next morn­ing, we set out again. All the seafront hous­es, one by one. All the hous­es per­pen­dic­u­lar to those along the shore­line. Khal­doun knocked on every door. He went down to the docks to inquire about a slave woman and her daugh­ter. It was an impos­si­ble ques­tion. ‘Do any of you know of a slave moth­er and her daugh­ter who lived in a house with a decheh over two decades ago? Do you know the men who stole the chil­dren of slaves?’ I was sur­prised they didn’t laugh in his face. Every time a door opened and Khal­doun asked the ques­tion, I held my breath, filled with sun-bright hope. That hope didn’t fade, no mat­ter how many times the answer came back ‘No.’ I could have gone door to door for weeks, even years, but after a few days of search­ing, Khal­doun decid­ed it was time to return to Bas­ra. I didn’t have a say in it.

“For ten years after that first vis­it, I mapped those alley­ways in my mind, con­vinc­ing myself that if I could walk through them one more time, I would find her. We must have missed the one home, tucked away on some neglect­ed lane, where they would have remem­bered her, my beau­ti­ful moth­er. I asked for anoth­er vis­it and, once again, the fam­i­ly oblig­ed. On this return I could see that the peo­ple of Kuwait Town were suf­fer­ing. Star­va­tion in the streets, the once live­ly ports dead. It was 1924, not a good year for them. Things were heat­ing up in Iraq too, those British trou­ble­mak­ers behind most of it. They exiled our own Pasha and, a few years lat­er, rumors would cir­cu­late that they were respon­si­ble for his death. My advice, even if he had heed­ed it, would have had no effect against those tricky for­eign­ers. But mes­keena Kuwait, Khal­doun told me, was being squeezed by the British, by Ibn Saud, and by pearls that didn’t come from the sea. ‘Along three fronts, Naase­ha. Can’t be easy for them.’

“I had no luck find­ing my moth­er or my sis­ter this time, either. Khal­doun and I traced all the dirt paths on foot, los­ing our­selves in the maze of the fir­jan. The wind­ing neigh­bor­hood alley­ways and mud­brick homes were dizzy­ing, espe­cial­ly at twi­light, and they didn’t shel­ter any sign of my kin. The ques­tions Khal­doun asked res­i­dents made even less sense to them than before. Many of the ones who may have remem­bered some­thing were, by then, deep in the ground. To those left, the past was a smudge on the hori­zon. Putting food in the stom­achs of their chil­dren mat­tered more than the dis­tant woes of a moth­er­less slave. This time, I was the one to say we should go. It was no use. My hope, no longer bright, col­lapsed into a dank well, col­lect­ing rot. 

“The third time I returned to Kuwait, I stayed. It was 1954. By then I was over six­ty. Mama Amina’s sons decid­ed to move there for good. Mama Ami­na was dead, Allah yarhamha. It was a sad leave-tak­ing from Bas­ra. The chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of the Pasha con­sid­ered Bas­ra their home, and so did I. We didn’t know what we were get­ting our­selves into. But as it turned out, those boys, my broth­ers, knew what they were doing. The rev­o­lu­tion would come to Iraq soon enough, and mean­while, Kuwait had dis­cov­ered oil.

“There was lit­tle hope of find­ing my moth­er or my sis­ter. Yes, I knew that my moth­er was like­ly buried by then, maybe my sis­ter too, but I couldn’t help feel­ing relieved at the chance to search to my heart’s con­tent for the rest of my life. You see, ya habu­ba, that was the real knot for me. Not who the men were. Not the stain of stolen chil­dren, who knows how many. Not the things that both­ered your grandun­cles and grand­fa­ther, the guilty things that seem to trou­ble you. It was my moth­er and sis­ter I want­ed back, with the greed of a nurs­ing baby. My moth­er and my sis­ter and the time lost between us — stolen, bro­ken time.

“I was no longer a slave. None of us were owned any­more. We were per­mit­ted to remain in the fam­i­ly home if we chose to or the fam­i­ly would find us small places to live. Some of us stayed, oth­ers, those with real fam­i­lies of their own, decid­ed to move on. I had nev­er mar­ried, so I stayed. I gave good advice, a wise old owl. But I wasn’t beau­ti­ful and couldn’t shake my fear of men’s hands. I raised many chil­dren, but I had no chil­dren of my own. I was con­vinced my pain would pass through the blood to any I car­ried in my womb. I didn’t want to risk trans­fer­ring to my own child the mis­ery of what had been done to me. All those years I had been left alone by the men of the fam­i­ly, a rar­i­ty among the female slaves. Out of respect for Mama Ami­na, I sup­pose. My two clos­est friends, Naeema and Naseema — the two they bought as chil­dren along with me — weren’t as lucky. I nev­er asked who had named us. It must have amused some­one to give three lit­tle slave girls names begin­ning with the same let­ter. It was the kind of thing that hap­pened, small jokes at our expense. Joke or not, our names bound us togeth­er. They couldn’t replace my own sis­ter, but those two loved me fierce­ly. They are long dead, my old­est friends, but their chil­dren live on. I dis­cov­ered no trace of my moth­er or sis­ter, even after three decades of search­ing, and no one lives on after me.

“I dream of them every night, and in my dreams we are togeth­er on the island of Zanz­ibar. A humid breeze skims my fore­head. Blue water of a shade that doesn’t exist on earth shim­mers before us. I am almost with my moth­er now, and my sweet, sweet sis­ter, and the smell of ros­es sur­rounds us.”

 


 

Afterword

I am in no posi­tion to express the depth of Naaseha’s intol­er­a­ble expe­ri­ence, and so I attempt to bear indi­rect wit­ness to it instead. She was only three when she was stolen, but the fact that she remem­bers as many details of that trau­mat­ic event as she does sug­gests it has shaped every aspect of her being. The vio­lence of that trau­ma com­bined with her com­plete inabil­i­ty to seek redress—first as a child, then as a female slave—is com­pound­ed, such that her expres­sion of grief is not con­ven­tion­al. Wan­der­ing the Kuwaiti fir­jan in search of her moth­er and sis­ter is a form of mourn­ing. The fact that she doesn’t want to have chil­dren so that she doesn’t pass down her pain to them through the womb is anoth­er shape her sor­row takes. And her recur­ring dreams, even as an old woman, express her unspeak­able loss. The fact that Naase­ha man­ages to live among her cap­tors, to carve out a life for her­self, is, per­haps, her way of man­ag­ing her grief the only way she can giv­en the hor­rif­ic circumstances.

Naase­ha is speak­ing to the great-grand­daugh­ter of the Pasha, who also makes an appear­ance in my nov­el. An Unlast­ing Home is, in many ways, a repos­i­to­ry of women’s sto­ries col­lect­ed by Sara, the pro­tag­o­nist. The lis­ten­er in “Naaseha’s Coun­sel” is unnamed, but as I was writ­ing it, I must have imag­ined her to be the young Sara, gath­er­ing yet anoth­er woman’s sto­ry oth­er­wise lost to obliv­ion. —Mai Al-Nakib

 

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Mai Al-Nakib was born in Kuwait and spent the first six years of her life in London, Edinburgh, and St. Louis, Missouri. She holds a PhD in English literature from Brown University and is Associate Professor of English and comparative literature at Kuwait University. Her academic research focuses on cultural politics in the Middle East, with a special emphasis on gender, cosmopolitanism, and postcolonial issues. Her short story collection, The Hidden Light of Objects, was published by Bloomsbury in 2014. It won the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s 2014 First Book Award, the first collection of short stories to do so. Her debut novel, An Unlasting Home, was published by Mariner Books-HarperCollins in April 2022. She divides her time between Kuwait and Greece.

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