CHICAGO: From the foothills of a mountain in Palestine to the shores of Tangier comes a story about an explorer named Qamar whose life is dedicated to discovery in Sonia Nimr’s “Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands.” In this extraordinary tale, translated by Marcia Lynx Qualey, Qamar follows her desire to see the world, much like the greatest explorer in the Muslim world, Ibn Battuta. Qamar discovers that life’s paths are winding and arduous but it is from those paths, if she can survive them, that the greatest lessons are learned.
A story that begins in a glass jar in Tangier finds its roots in Palestine where twin girls, Shams and Qamar, are born. Their lives begin as strangely as their futures take shape, in a village that has been cursed, no less, by the girls’ father. Surrounded by the books that their mother has inherited as the daughter of a bookshop owner, Qamar and Shams have no friends to play with but the pages in their library. Through the books, they live adventures, but none that can prepare Qamar for the life she is about to have.
To escape the bleak accursed life and the heavy patriarchy that clouds the village, Qamar decides on adventure as she heads for Jerusalem, then Gaza, and from there to Egypt. From highway robbers to princesses in grand palaces to pirates that sail over the seas, Qamar’s life takes many twists and turns in this four-part adventure. Nimr’s novel is fast-paced and exhilarating as Qamar’s stories, much like Shahrazad’s, keep her alive and ready for each day to come.
Sending out Qamar with one single book in her hand, a book she loses and finds multiple times throughout her journey, Nimr’s contemporary folklore ignites a sense of history and exploration in its readers.
With joy and tragedy, and the outcomes that are in turn expected and surprising, at the heart of Nimr’s story is the journey that Qamar must take to make her the woman she is meant to be.