This is a sliim, beguiling novel that reads like a memoir. The author, an Arab woman living in Paris, writes about an Arab woman living in Paris who is reflecting on her relationships with men and with sex itself. The story draws on ancient erotic Arabic literary texts as a context in which the narrator views herself and her encounters.
The reader, by the way, is never quite sure which of those adventures are real and which imagined. But drawing a distinction when it comes to sex between “the real” and “the imagined” is one of the things this novel challenges: “He was just as my words had shaped him. The image belongs to me; it has nothing to do with him” (p138). No writer I have read blends so successfully sexual frankness, human insight, and poetic delicacy. Moreover this remarkable sensitivity, Al Neimi argues, derives from an extraordinary tradition of Arabic erotica that leads to, rather than away from, that God who both creates and blesses our desires.
The author, through her narrator, propounds an extreme feminist view — with curious spears of male chauvinism protruding in some passages. Using this short volume as a barometer, the sexual revolution that shook the Western world in the 1960’s and ’70’s may be, for good or not, edging farther into the Muslim consciousness now.
The sensual cover suggests a novella of refined eroticism and lyricism. One cannot, upon finishing the book, be entirely satisfied, however, because the thin plot is really veneer for mini essays, the thoughts are often confused and partial, and, although sexual honey and seductive lower backs are embedded (pun intended) in certain passages, for the most part, one needn’t fan oneself from embarrassment. Much original English-language erotic literature is arguably far more developed and arousing than this translation.
“The Proof of the Honey” is an important book because it dispels cultural stereotypes while transcending the local to make all of us think more deeply about the realm of the senses. What her lover tells the heroine of this novel is what we might say of its author: “I love two things about you. Your free spirit and your Arabness”.