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The Occasional Virgin confused me a bit. On one hand, it is a feminist novel, on the other it is not. The main characters, Yvonne and Huda, are “liberated” women. They have successfully left their home in Lebanon and made names for themselves out in the world. The two women have escaped oppression and fought against misogyny. They have left homes and cultures where the patriarchy rules. In Lebanon, Yvonne and Huda were expected to fill “the role of the women” but disregarded the expectation to go out in the world and make their own lives. They are powerful and successful women but at times, it seemed like Hanan al-Shaykh reduced to them tropes.

For example, Yvonne’s main goal throughout the book is to have a child. I am not saying that is not a good goal to have but it placed Yvonne in a “traditional role” where as the rest of the book characterized her as someone who refused to the cultural norm like Huda.  It is similar for Huda as well, she shatters expectations as well but seems to fall into an unhealthy relationship with a man for the sake of revenge.

I am not saying that I did not like the book though it is definitely my least favorite that we have read so far.  I did enjoy al-Shaykh’s descriptions of the sea. Yvonne and Huda’s time in Italy is beautiful. Al-Shaykh’s diction is interesting, often using unusual words to describe the mundane. She makes the see a metaphor for growth and change come to life. I also enjoyed the stories about Huda and Yvonne’s childhood. It was a good contrast to their current lives. It also showed them as powerful women, even when they were younger, as they were constantly pushing boundaries. The two women definitely wrestle with interesting questions about women, immigrants, and  religion. The Occasional Virgin is definitely a very relevant book.

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