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Finding Nouf was first published in 2008 by Houghton Mifflin.
It was my master's thesis at Columbia under the tutelage of David Ebershoff and Sheila Kohler.
My agent, Julie Barer, my editor, Anjali Singh, and my British Editor, Richard Beswick, all spent a year helping shape the novel.
When sixteen-year-old Nouf goes missing, her prominent family calls on Nayir Sharqi, a pious desert guide, to lead the search party. Ten days later, just as Nayir is about to give up, her body is discovered. When the coroner's office determines that she died not of dehydration but of drowning, and her family seems suspiciously uninterested in getting at the truth, Nayir takes it upon himself to find out what happened.
The only problem? He has no access to the women who knew Nouf best, and to gain that access, he must rely on a woman.
When I first wrote about Nayir, the novel was a thriller about an American woman who gets stuck in Jeddah when her husband goes missing. I sent it to three dozen agents and only one of them got back to me. She said: This is great, I just don't think it will sell unless you take out all the Arabs.
I got so angry that I decided to write a brand new novel that would include only Arabs. I turned all my attention to Katya and Nayir.
The American woman, Miriam, eventually made an appearance in my second novel, City of Veils.
Nayir has to join forces with Katya Hijazi, a forensic technician who is bold enough to pursue the investigation on her own. Their partnership challenges Nayir as he confronts his desire for female companionship and the limitations imposed by his beliefs.
Katya is a liberal-minded woman who will fight for the right to work outside the home, to travel on her own, and to get married if and when she wants to. Getting to know Nayir challenges her even more.
I didn't set out to write a mystery. I simply set out to write about Nayir, a man who didn't feel comfortable talking to women, but who really wanted to get married and have a family.
Nayir was based on a friend of my ex-husband's who was devout, respectful, and a little shy. He didn't have a family to arrange a marriage for him, and he had trouble meeting women in Saudi.
I asked myself: what would force my character out of his comfort zone? What would make him talk to a woman? Murder was the only thing that seemed interesting enough. It presented a higher moral imperative.
"What's remarkable about this debut is that its mystery takes place within a culture that is largely under wraps... The thriller plot is well-placed. But it's the individual journeys of Nayir and Katya, who abide by society's strictures even as they are frustrated by them, that elevate Finding Nouf to a larger human drama."
"[Ferraris] weaves a richly detailed tapestry of the country's gender-segregated and pious Muslim culture."
"Ferraris writes with authority on how Saudi insiders and outsiders alike perceive the United States... With equal authority, she stakes her own claim on the world map, opening Saudi Arabia up for mystery fans to reveal the true minds and hearts of its denizens."
—Sarah Weinman, Los Angeles Times
"A tense psychological drama, and a riveting portrait of everyday life in a society with paranoid attitudes towards women and sex."
—The Sunday Times
Finding Nouf was a San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller and winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. It was also chosen as one of the Best New Voices of the Year by Waterstone's Booksellers, one of the Ten Best Novels of the Spring by The Independent. It was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and a Book Sense pick.
From an interview I did with author Matt Rees.
MR: What’s your experience with being translated?
ZF: It goes like this: foreign publisher buys the book, translates it, sends you a copy. You open the book, scratch your head, close it, appreciate the cover art, then put it on the shelf. Sometimes you pass the shelf and wonder if they changed whole swathes of text, and if you’ll ever find out.