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Int. Lit # 2

Multicultural Literature for Youth

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International Literature

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Stolz, Joelle. 2004. The Shadows of Ghadames. Translated from French by Catherine Temerson. New York: Delacorte Press. ISBN: 0-385-73104-3.

 

Set in Libya in the late nineteenth century, The Shadows of Ghadames is filled with rich cultural details depicting daily life for women. Malika, who is nearly 12, is discontent with the narrow, constricted life of women, who are confined to the city rooftops while men freely walk the streets below. She longs to travel beyond the desert and to learn to read and write Arabic. Her body has begun to mature, and soon she will join the women’s world and lose the little freedom she has as a child. Then one day, Bilkisu, her father’s second wife, brings an injured stranger into the household while her father is away, breaking local laws and putting the family at risk. While Abdelkarim is hiding in her home, he teaches Malika to read and write, and both he and she gain “startling insight into just how powerful and complex that women’s word is” (Kirkus Reviews).

 

Readers will easily understand why this novel won the 2005 Batchelder Award. While Stolz does not seem to be from the culture she writes about, she has done her homework, and she has created believable, strong characters, particularly Malika and Bilkisu.  The plot, while not a complex one, holds the reader’s interest throughout the novel. One can taste the rich coffee, hear the women ululating, and taste the “lovely dried figs…like honey” at the women’s market (74). The author’s language is highly descriptive and often poetic. One weakness is that while the author tells us that the story takes place at the end of the nineteenth century, we do not get clues about the time period within the novel. Readers might think that the story takes place in the present or the recent past.  However, this weakness is minor compared to the rich cultural adventure that awaits curious readers.