Set in a post-contagion Mideast, ROOM 100 is a 91,000-word speculative novel about a young mother trying to escape the infamous Quarantine Zone with her child. It combines the brisk pace of Middle Eastern genre stories such as Zoe Ferraris’s City of Veils with the upmarket writing style of Hillary Jordan’s When She Woke.
Forty years after a global pandemic, peace and prosperity in Middle East come at a cost—the sick and their descendants, as well as political exiles, are banished to the walled Quarantine Zone. Rabia is a young mother and the daughter of its powerful medical director, and when she threatens to expose her father’s corruption, he sends her away to the Zone.
Rabia takes work in Room 100, the medical clinic at a girls’ school. The school belongs to Hanbal, a thug who governs the neighborhood, and Rabia learns that it’s an asset in a dangerous political game: he’s marrying the girls off to forge alliances against the soldiers in charge. Rabia’s objections put her and her daughter in danger.
She finds an ally in Um Sahar, the school’s headmistress and Hanbal’s own wife. Um Sahar is an ambiguous and powerful political figure, and until now, Rabia has hidden her identity as the daughter of the most hated man in the Zone. But when Um Sahar discovers this, Rabia must choose whom to defend as the situation in the Zone escalates toward all-out revolt: her daughter or the girls whose childhoods are being sacrificed to fight an oppressive political order. ROOM 100 explores what it means to defend or betray one’s gender, and the compromises a mother makes for her child.
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.