There is a simplicity to Mirage, this story of star-crossed lovers whose brief happiness is cut short, that belies the skill of its telling. Set in a closed Arab kingdom in our own time, it has the timeless appeal and delicacy of a fairy tale, yet also the moral weight—and all the human sadness—of a novel by Thomas Hardy. It tells how Sayeed, a good but unexceptional Muslim, finds happiness with Latifa, a girl who might have been beyond his reach had widowhood and misfortune not brought her within it. The scene for Sayeed’s marriage is set with unpretending tenderness and in unerring detail: the city hospital where he works, the shanty town where he lives, his brother’s desert home, the peasant wedding, the struggle to make a decent life for his new wife and her child. Heat, dirt, and squalor form the backdrop of a tragedy, one fueled by petty jealousy, sexual desire, and religious fervor, with Latifa, a village girl unused to the ways of the city: its ultimate victim.
Mirage was published in England in 1999 at the author’s own expense. It emerged from that year’s Booker Prize deliberations the unexpected favorite of a number of the judges, just missing the final shortlist. Boyd Tonkin, literary editor of the London Independent, chose it as his Book of the Year, saying “we need novels as lucid, moving, and compassionate as this one.”
A little masterpiece, beautiful, a testimony to decency and courage in the face of such oppression, such hardship.
—Doris Lessing, Times Literary Supplement