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Publisher's Summary

In this frank and fearless novel, acclaimed writer Hanan al-Shaykh follows the tumultuous lives and sometimes shocking choices of women successful in their careers but unlucky in love.  

On a sunny beach on the Italian Riviera, two thirtysomething women, Yvonne and Huda, relax by the sparkling sea. But despite the setting, as their vacation unfolds, their complicated pasts seep through to the idyllic present. Both women spent their childhoods in Lebanon - Yvonne raised in a Christian family, Huda in a Muslim one - and they now find themselves torn between the traditional worlds they were born into and the successful professional identities they’ve created.  

Three months later, when Huda (a theater director from Toronto) visits Yvonne (an advertising executive) in London, a chance encounter with a man at Speaker’s Corner leads to profound repercussions for them both. As the novel continues, each woman will undertake her own quest for love and romance, revenge and fulfillment. Witty and wry, The Occasional Virgin is a poignant and perceptive tale for our time.

©2018 Hanan al-Shaykh (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“A refreshing, thought-provoking look at the weight of history on the lives we build for ourselves.... Al-Shaykh’s prose invites readers into the vivid imagery of [her two protagonists’] minds as they grapple with religion, family, relationships, and their own identities; both are complex, fully realized characters.” (Booklist)

“Irony and iconoclasm are the orders of the day in al-Shaykh’s bittersweet tale of friendship and disillusionment.... Al-Shaykh, who has drawn both admiration and condemnation in her native Lebanon for frank depictions of women’s sexuality and criticism of women’s powerlessness in traditional social structures, continues to grapple with these issues in ways both farcical and profound. It’s the small moments - of both absurdity and genuine pathos - that will remain with readers, as Yvonne and Huda struggle to reconcile where they came from with who they’ve become.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Novelist and memoirist al-Shaykh delivers an elegant story of a friendship that is anything but easy.... [The] novel is full of quiet regrets as it speaks gracefully to the challenges of friendship, challenges that threaten to drive the two women apart but that, in the end, instead strengthen their bond. Another winning book by one of the most distinguished Arabic-language writers at work today.” (Kirkus Reviews)

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