Set in an unnamed country in the Mid East, this novel follows the lives of four women: Suha, Nur, Suzanne, and Tamr. Each woman is affected by the conservative Muslim culture they live in, but react in four distinctly different ways. Suha--Lebanese born and educated--chafes at the restrictions she faces and acts out by entering into a dangerous sexual relationship with Nur. Wealthy and pampered Nur uses sex to break up the boredom of her life as does American Suzanne. Unsurprising, both women do not find the happiness they seek, but with different results. Finally, mousy Tamr risks family ire by attending classes and opening up her own business.I found this novel striking but difficult: Al-Shaykh's characters are fleshy and realistic, often acting in ways challenging to the reader to like or admire. I was surprised to realize that even in the Mid East, local mores vary; Lebanese Suha, in particular, struggles to show the reader that Islamic doesn't have to equal repressive.