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Hanan al-Shaykh’s The Occasional Virgin is quoted as a “frank and fearless novel” on the inside of the book’s jacket.  There are many things both frank and fearless about this novel, but in particular is the author’s handling of sexuality; the sexual acts in this novel highlight the differences not only between Huda and Yvonne’s religions but also the cultures, as well as the cultural differences in Lebanon and the United States.  For example, on page 24, when Yvonne “saw her mother’s true colours; she only loved the boys. When one of Yvonne’s brothers was ill, her mother would put vinegar compresses on his forehead to draw out the fever, muttering, ‘May Jesus reach out his hands to heal you…’ She sang the praises of their male members and her favourite anecdote was about planting a kiss on Tanius’s little willy, only to have the scallywag pee in her mouth.”

I read and reread this passage because it struck me as obscene and wildly inappropriate, though the context of the passage and those that follow it do not suggest that there was any reason to find said passage so bizarre. I am not overly familiar with Lebanese culture, but I do know that in America this would not be accepted.

Another instance of the bizarre sexuality in this novel is found on page 129 when Huda uses a strawberry to trick Hisham into believing that she is still a virgin.  The idea that virginity is so important to the men and women of the Muslim religion is not a foreign one, but this act itself was so strange. I did, though, find it revealing of Huda’s character; there is a set determination in her, and there would have to be, for one to commit such an act. I think this also shows how detrimental some of the principals of the Muslim religion are to its women believers.

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