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In her “The Keeping of the Virgins”, Hanan Al-Shaykh uses language beautifully to immerse the reader into the story. There are many lovely descriptions in this body of work, both in rhythm and imagery. “They had grown used to seeing him every morning shortly after they set to work, bending over the hibiscus bushes to gather the wine-colored blossoms. He would go by with a confident step, heading for the convent, where the pure ones lived, books and magazines tucked under his arm, a cloth bundle containing his food for the day held firmly in his hand.” The descriptions in these sentences, paired with the author’s intelligent verb choice, make them very pleasant to read.

There is also a purity in this piece, obviously derived from the title and subject matter, but also in the writing. One of the very last paragraphs discusses the dwarf’s love and devotion to the nuns, and though it is written very delicately, it also reads as being very holy. “They were eaten up heart and soul with their love for Christ. This was true love, the like of which he had never found in any novel, translated or otherwise. Never before had he encountered such passion and devotion. Was this what they called sacrifice?… He’d make their mud-brick beds for them and be close to their sheets–for Christ must smell that they were clean.” The innocence in the women shines in this paragraph, but so does the love the dwarf feels for them. For much of the story, the reader comes to know of how the people around the dwarf feel about him; he is an outcast. But in the convent, with these virgins that he has come to look over, he is accepted and valued.

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