Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands
In a village in Palestine long ago the women are not allowed to leave or learn to read, and the elders have banned bright clothes because they consider them extravagant.
Here, at the foot of the mountains, the villagers live under a curse where women and animals are only able to give birth to males after one of the men in the village fled to marry a girl in the city who was rumoured to be a jinn.
Qamar, whose father was born in the village, breaks free of the repressive rules put in place and sets off on a voyage around the world in a tale written by Palestinian author Sonia Nimr.
In a series of adventures, which require a stretch in the imagination, Qamar travels from Jerusalem to Gaza to Cairo and Tangier. Along the way she is sold into slavery by highway robbers, sails with a pirate posing as a man, before eventually settling down to sell books.
But Qamar goes on so many adventures and covers such a vast terrain in such little time the reader is never truly able to invest in what she is experiencing in one city before she wakes up one morning and decides to do something else, which at times feels like being thrown around on the ships she herself travels on.
Along the way Qamar carries with her a copy of ‘Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands’, the book through which her parents met, and which carries the same title of the novel in which she is a character, which won the Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature in 2014 and was included on the IBBY Honours List.
Qamar tells stories to pass the time and to survive, which is perhaps why the book has been widely compared to the classic ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ in which the vizier’s daughter tells the king stories to put off her own execution and revolves around the power of storytelling.
The author of ‘Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands’, Sonia Nimr, has said herself that she’s always imagined herself as a great traveller like the fourteenth century Ibn Battuta, the Moroccan explorer who dictated his own travels in ‘Rihlah’, after travelling 75,000 miles across the Middle East when he was 20 years old.
Ibn Battuta is said to have escaped armed bandits, a beheading and navigated other similar adventures to Qamar. Like her stories, scholars have questioned the veracity of Ibn Battuta’s tales.
Those who love to travel will relate to Qamar’s journey, which is a reminder of the benefits of shaking off society’s preconceived notions of what you should be doing and carving out your own path in life, and the adventures and experiences which come with that. It also navigates well the shift in Qamar as a free spirit able to make decisions just for herself, to how her life and perspective changes after she becomes a mother.
But the path she takes is also a reminder of the consequences: If you do things differently, you risk a life of solitude or at the very least feeling like an outsider.