My hands were shaking, but I clasped them so tightly no one could see that. I made my voice strong and firm. “I want to do what my cousins have done. I’ve always dreamed of it. I’m as smart as they are. Send me to one of the cities along the coast. With the money, I’ll set up shop. Those seaports are full of sailors. They sell their goods cheap, they’re so eager to get rid of them. And merchants come, on caravan, just as eager to buy. I’ll send what I make to you. You’ll be rich in a few months time. My uncle will be as nothing compared to you.”
At first my parents were so flabbergasted they couldn’t speak. That’s why I was able to say so much without being interrupted. My mother recovered her voice first. “Tomorrow I’ll send for that old woman who lives in the Muqtadiyya district. She makes a secret broth from a certain herb she finds in the desert. It’s said to cure madness.”
“Mother, I’m not mad.” (24-25)
Buran is one of seven sisters born to a merchant and his wife. Her uncle constantly berates her father’s bad luck, since her uncle has seven sons who he can send out into the world to increase the family’s fortune. When Buran’s father falls ill, Buran is finally able to convince him to assume a disguise and travel dressed as a man in a convoy and set up trade. But dressing as a man has its disadvantages, especially when Buran starts falling in love and is forced to choose between shedding her disguise or her independence.
While I liked the story well enough, it lacks the action and tension that most readers seem to expect these days from a retold fairy tale. Written three decades ago, the age of the story might contribute to the slow pace of the novel. Most of the story covers either Buran’s travels to and from her home or the courtship between her and her love interest. The travels that take her away from home are relatively uneventful, and no real detail is given to her task master/teacher.
The book does give an insight into the culture, although some of the references again might be dated. I’m left wondering how likely it would be for Buran to assume this hidden identity when being raised in a “proper” household, revealing that her father has been the only male to see her since she became a woman. If Buran had been rebellious as a child I could understand a little better this change in clothing, but we don’t really get any sort of rebellious vibe, just the impression that her father is slightly indulgent in teaching her typically male activities and hobbies.