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`Consequences' is tender story of forbidden love

The Associated Press, Monday, August 24, 2009, 5:21am (PDT)

"The Consequences of Love" (Random House Inc., 303 pages, $25), by Sulaiman Addonia: Love always has consequences, but for most, those consequences don't include gruesome punishments or slow, painful death. In Sulaiman Addonia's "The Consequences of Love," any contact is dangerous — and could be fatal.

The story is set in Saudi Arabia in 1989. Women are covered from head to toe in black, fully veiled, gloved and draped so that not a glimpse of skin can be seen. They are separated from men even in their own homes, and are scorned as the source of men's sin.

Although men have more freedom, they are watched by the religious police, who have the power to seize, search and punish those who deviate from the strict religious rules that govern them.

In the midst of this black-and-white world is 20-year-old Nasar, a refugee from his homeland of Eritrea where he lived with his younger brother, mother and her female friends. Nasar and his brother are taken in by their uncle, who is a strict Muslim.

Nasar remembers the company of women, and longs for it. In a society of arranged marriages and total separation of the sexes, he dreams of love.

The substitute for love in Nasar's world is the use of young men and boys as sexual partners. Nasar is forced to accept the situation, first to protect his family's right to stay in the country, then to protect the woman he loves.

"My dear, in a world without women and in the absence of female glamour, boys like you are the perfect substitute," one of his few benefactors tells him.

Nasar's romance begins when one of the anonymous women he sees in the streets of Jeddah drops a note at his feet. She has watched him for some time and is willing to take the risk of making contact.

How can she do it, Nasar wonders, when the consequences can be so high? But he's drawn into the dangerous adventure, able to identify her by the pink shoes she wears and, finally, using the very conventions that are meant to keep them apart.

Far from being a story of boy meets girl and young love blossoms, Addonia builds tension and inspires fear and admiration for the young lovers. The reader might wonder where they get the courage to reach out to each other in a "gloomy world where everyone feared something, a world where laughter was a sin ... where looking at a woman's face ... was a serious crime."

This story of forbidden love is beautifully written, full of tenderness and terror.

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