The opening premise of Eman Quotah’s debut, Bride of the Sea, is intriguing: Muneer and Saeedah marry, move from Saudi Arabia to the United States and, as the relationship deteriorates, decide to divorce, going against Muslim tradition. As their world crumbles, Saeedah abducts their daughter and disappears. The novel only gets better from this setup, transforming into a family saga that spans from 1970 to 2018.
This ambitious tale moves between Saudi Arabia and the United States, touching on the Gulf War, 9/11, increased Islamophobia in the U.S., the beginning of women being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia and other moments of social and cultural upheaval. Through it all, the secrets, desires and fears of Muneer, Saeedah and their daughter compose a complex picture of how society and the individual shape and inform each other. When society’s expectations render certain decisions impossible, how can an individual choose to live? This question shapes the novel, from Saeedah’s choice to run away with their daughter and Muneer’s search for her, to considerations of journalistic integrity and how familial ties bind and dissolve over time.
Impressive, too, is the sense of place, the ways that bodies of water connect characters to each other. The details of each country are so richly and vividly imagined that as characters travel, so does the reader.
Structurally and syntactically, Bride of the Sea is a gem. The shift from the opening in 2018 to the events in 1970 is abrupt, and these moments fuse again as the novel concludes. Quotah structures these connections to maintain the reader’s sense of wonder, to keep you reading through the loop as you learn of each character’s identity and fate, their secrets and stories.