The Locust and the Bird, By Hanan Al-Shaykh

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The Independent Culture

Locked into marriage at 14, Hanan Al-Shaykh's mother Kamila pined for the glamour of movies and poetry – and for her true love, the musical, romantic youth Muhammad. In this remarkable leap of imagination and empathy, the Lebanese novelist reverses the usual optic of family memoirs by recreating her mother's headstrong but stardust-sprinkled journey through life.

Only at its start and end does the writer speak as herself. Rebellion, divorce and, later, civil war in Beirut split Kamila from her daughter, and so this testament at one remove forms part of a long voyage of recovery and renewal.

"My mother wrote this book," Al-Shaykh insists. "She is the one who spread her wings." Mischievous, passionate, lyrical, this virtuoso feat of ventriloquism keeps its sparkle and its tenderness in Roger Allen's translation.