Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Culture Clash . . . or . . . "The Sheikh's Bargain Bride" by Diana Fraser

Being trapped in a marriage of convenience in a desert kingdom, where duty and tradition reign as supreme as the sheikh, is the worst thing that could happen to freedom-loving Anna Whitman. However she has no choice but to agree to Sheikh Zahir Al-Zaman’s demands when he kidnaps her son.

Duty, loyalty and tradition are the driving forces in Zahir’s life. He’s fought for them all his life and now finds himself obsessed with a woman who appears to be the opposite of everything he values. In order to control his obsession with Anna he believes he needs to possess her. And he’s prepared to go to any lengths to do so—even using Anna’s child to blackmail her into marriage.

But Zahir will not force her into his bed; he has his strategies for seduction. Despite an intense attraction, Anna is not going to make it easy for him. Even when she begins to understand him, and his culture that seemed so restrictive at first, she won’t have a relationship with him based on lies. But how can she reveal her secrets when they will shatter the beliefs he holds most dear?

Freedom-loving--that's what all Americans are.  Yet for Anna, the idea of being independent and free to chart the course of her life was her first priority--or perhaps coming in second after loving and caring for her son, Matta.  Anna's marriage to Abdullah, Zahir's brother, has lasted only a very short time after discovering that he had married her only to cover up his homosexuality from his family.  Yet they remained best friends, even to the point that Anna continued to keep Abdullah's secret, even after his death by drug overdose and even taking the blame for his death, a blame that really was not hers at all.  Yet when Zahir used Matta to bring Anna to the desert, used her son to coerce her into marriage, Anna had no choice.  

This is an amazing novel of the clash between the American values we almost all take for granted with a culture that happily continues to this day, a culture that is based on an autocratic way of governing country and family and personal relationships.  As the Sheikh, Zahir was the last word in just about everything, but what Anna didn't know and what Zahir didn't tell her, was that he was absolutely obsessed with her because of the one night they spent together in Paris four years earlier.  Anna's anger at being forced into accepting Zahir's ultimatum did indeed gradually soften and she gradually came to realize that there was a sense of belonging available to her that she had never experienced before.  As a woman bent on becoming a kick-ass lawyer, however, she just couldn't see past the boundaries, past what she perceived as restraints personally and every other way.  

Anna's pursuit of independence came with a very hefty price, and the reader will find that plowing through all the layers of this story, of Zahir and Abdullah's family, of what it takes to be open to other ways of living and relating will draw one into the story in a deeply emotional way.  The writer has crafted the characters with a deft hand, allowing readers to literally sense the emotions, the connections or the disconnects, the strong maternal feelings and the erotic couplings that are a part of this romance.  Both Anna and Zahir are strong, assertive persons, people who have set a path for themselves and those around them and who are not content to just float through life letting others make their decisions for them.  Their difficulties were as profound as their love for each other, all of which were caused by deep emotions that had the power to enrich or disrupt, and the seeming bent they both possessed to misread and misunderstand one another.  Again, I had the strong sense that those feelings and miscommunications were as much a part of the culture clash as religion or family structure.  

Ultimately this story is about the power of genuine affection, respect and deep loving to re-order one's personal life view, to provide answers to some of life's deep longings, and to bring people together across significant barriers.  Anna and Zahir remained, in essence, who they were, but their emotional connection was the most powerful change agent in their lives.  Anna, who feared close emotional ties as the foremost enemy of her personal independence, and Zahir who believed that his early life as a warrior and desert fighter had killed his capacity to love -- each found a way to reclaim who they truly are.  How they managed that is at the core of the story and the stuff that makes this novel compelling and one that will not turn loose of the reader's mind and emotions from start to finish.  I give this delightful read a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

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