Set in a post-contagion Mideast, ROOM 100 is a dystopian novel about a young mother trying to escape the infamous Quarantine Zone with her child. It combines the brisk pace of Middle Eastern mysteries such as Zoe Ferraris’s City of Veils and Matt Rees’s A Grave in Gaza with the intense, interior narration style of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
Trapped in the walled Quarantine Zone after her sick husband dies, Rabia, a new mother, captures the unwanted attention of Hanbal, a sewer king who governs according to corrupted Shari’a law. Women are just a commodity to be traded, and Hanbal runs a “school” that trains girls as wives, and marries them to men to forge alliances in the plague-stricken city.
Yet some students are scheming to escape their fate, and invite the savvy, passionate Rabia to Room 100, a secret club that is trying to arrange a wholesale escape from the Quarantine Zone–and leading the club is none other than Hanbal’s own wife.
Rabia soon finds herself in a spiderweb of desperate cross-schemes. As time runs short before Hanbal starts a violent campaign against quarantine’s oppressive conditions, and the club’s activities against him become more dangerous, Rabia considers a betrayal that could destroy Room 100, but preserve the life and future of her infant daughter.
(Named One to Watch in January 2013 and described as “definitely one of the most exciting new books on authonomy.” Thanks!)
And for those of you curious about the old version of the novel, and how the story setup evolved when a great editor got her hands on my manuscript, here’s the synopsis of the novel when it was called SHAHIDA.
SHAHIDA is set in the near-future Gaza Strip. It combines the brisk pace of Middle Eastern mysteries such as Zoe Ferraris’s City of Veils and Matt Rees’s A Grave in Gaza with the intense, interior narration style of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
Shunned by her family, Rabia, a disgraced young mother, starts class in Gaza City’s “women’s education program”—a school that trains women as wives, and marries them to graduating men. She needs the marriage to regain custody of her infant daughter, but faces the danger of jail or stoning if she violates the land’s strict, unfamiliar laws.
Yet the school has a covert agenda. Because Rabia already has a child, making her an unlikely candidate for marriage, the dean compels her to join a political club for women. In the club, she embarks on a secret double life that puts her in more danger, but offers hope of eventual escape. She discovers that the women in the club are being trained as shahidat, suicide bombers; but once in, Rabia cannot leave lest she be stoned as a collaborator, and leave her daughter motherless.
Her only escape is a fellow student who offers to help her in exchange for favors to an underground organization. The favors become more dangerous—but also lead to Sami, a resister whom she must learn to trust if she is to survive. As the price of her escape, they make a daring effort to expose the school’s covert agenda, and start a chain reaction that could forever change the land where veils hide all, and where every personal act is also political.
I write about the Middle East because of man’s inhumanity to man. This border crossing exists, and it’s hardly the worst.