The colorful cover with flowers is simply wonderful and the first impression is essential to grab the attention of potential readers.
The protagonist of the first novel is Aïda Mubarak who like the author comes from West-Africa, has a mixed marriage and lives in Dallas, Texas. They are both college-educated Muslim women that at a certain point of their life decide to start wearing the hijab and to quit their job to become housewives. This makes the reader wonder about to what extent Mistress of the Spices deals with the author’s real experience.
Aïda meets Mussa Habib on a dating site at the beginning of 2011. She’s 25 and he’s 29. Mussa is a white Muslim from Russia. He’s tall, virile and his eyes are blue. Aïda falls in love with his pictures and sends him a message. They start to exchange emails, texts and chat messages, but they avoid video calls because Mussa is a very conservative man.
Aïda lives by herself in New Jersey and works as a senior financial analyst. She drives a car and her mother too. Mrs. Mubarak is a chemistry and mathematics teacher while Aïda’s father is a psychiatrist. They are all highly-educated people with prestigious jobs. Why did they leave their native country? It would have been interesting to delve deeper into this aspect.
Both Mussa and Aïda have had their own sexual experiences before meeting, but then they completely change their lifestyle and they don’t have sex until their marriage.
Mussa is a hideous character, an authentic sexist who wants her wife to wear the hijab and quit her job. Aïda at first tries to resist, but she’s so in love with him to surrender to his will. Mussa is a brainwasher who uses religion to scare Aïda. Women shouldn’t wear pants because they’re only for men… But in ancient times also men wore tunics!
Aïda begins to wear the hijab only when her father recovers from a potentially deadly illness, but the result is nevertheless the same. Mussa doesn’t beat his wife, but he perfectly knows how to manipulate her. He uses coitus interruptus to deny Aïda the joy of motherhood until she quits her new job in Dallas.
For almost the entire book the reader believes that Mussa has four wives, but the final is quite surprising since the four wives are just four different aspects of Aïda’s personality. The couple has wonderful sex behind closed doors and in Mistress of the Spices it’s possible to find many explicit scenes. However they aren’t the most interesting part of the novel since they are so extreme to look unnatural (Mussa tied to the bed by his wife, Aïda tied by her husband and enjoying being spanked, sex in a Jacuzzi, Aïda wearing babydolls, thongs and monokinis, oral sex, having sex for three times in the same night and so on).
Mistress of the Spices is an authentic page-turner and a thought provoking novel useful to learn some Arabic words thanks to the extremely useful glossary and explanations provided by the author. Aïda’s lifestyle is really difficult to understand for those who have different values, but she has chosen her own cage and seems happy with it.
I have received a free paperback copy of Bloom in exchange for an honest review and I can’t wait to read the other two novels of this collection. Am I masochistic? Yes, I am. I already know it will be a torture, but I love to learn about other cultures and reading a compelling book with another point of view is surely better than wasting your time with a boring one.
There are a few spelling mistakes in the novel, the text should be justified and the table of contents unfortunately has no page numbers, but Mistress of the Spices is nevertheless a really enjoyable reading. Thanks Papatia for writing it!
P.S. Mistress of the Spices is also available as a stand-alone novel.