Zoë Ferraris moved to Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the first Gulf War to live with her then husband and his extended family of Saudi-Palestinian Bedouins, who had never welcomed an American into their lives before. She has an MFA from Columbia University and is the award-winning author of Finding Nouf. Her new novel, City of Veils, has just been released. She lives in San Francisco. Visit her online at www.zoeferraris.com. I had the chance to ask her a few questions and here they are:
- I have seven daughters and have a difficult time coming to grips with the way Middle East cultures treat women. How are we as more modern and forward thinking people supposed to reconcile that?
There are so many opinions on the subject. Saudi women in particular have a huge variety of reactions to how they are treated. It’s a very individual thing that’s tied up with cultural identity, personal preferences, family expectations, etc. Personally, I find it difficult to live in Saudi Arabia as a woman. The way I’m expected to behave goes against my grain. I can pretend for a while, but eventually it wears me down. There is discrimination in every culture, and I say fight it whenever you see it.
- When you lived overseas did the women over there respect you more because of your accomplishments and college education or were they more intimidated by you?
My sisters-in-law have a very high respect for education, college degrees in particular, since they’re so difficult for women to attain. Family pressures to marry young often make it hard for women to go to university. My in-laws have a little bit less respect for me because - they say - it’s EASY for American women to go to college. Now if I were a Muslim woman from Jeddah, they might be impressed….
-What is your next novel going to focus on and when does that hit the shelves or cyberspace?
City of Veils comes out in August. It focuses on a female filmmaker from Jeddah who was interested in exposing the hypocrisies and taboos of her society. She winds up dead in chapter one and our investigators have to pry into the dark corners of her life. I’ve launched this book from my first novel, Finding Nouf. The old characters are back, along with some new perspectives: a non-devout Arab police officer and an American woman, whose husband was involved with the dead woman before he disappeared, leaving his wife stranded in Jeddah.
- Can you give tell us one of your favorite recipes?
My favorite recipe from the Middle East is something my husband taught me. He loved to cook, and I make this one all the time.
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces,1 large onion, chopped, 2 large carrots, 1 large potato, ½ cup peas, ½ cup corn, 2 cloves garlic, chopped, Olive oil for frying,
Whole spices: 6 whole cardamom pods, 6 whole cloves, 6 small pieces of crystallized ginger, 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 bay leaf
Powdered spices: 1 tsp. curry powder, ½ tsp. ground pepper, ½ tsp. turmeric, 1 tsp. salt,
For paste, Mix together: ½ cup yogurt, 1 cup water, 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil. Add the whole spices and fry for a few minutes. Add the chicken and cook until skin is brown. Add the powdered spices and then the paste.
Bring to a boil and then cover and simmer for 30-35 minutes, or until chicken is done. If needed, add more water. Serve over a bed of rice with pita bread and tomato-and-cucumber salad. Best dinner ever!
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