The skin and its girl : a novel

by Cypher, Sarah,

Format: Print Book 2023
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A young, queer Palestinian American woman pieces together her great-aunt's secrets in this sweeping debut, confronting questions of sexual identity, exile, and lineage.

In a Pacific Northwest hospital far from the Rummani family's ancestral home in Palestine, the heart of a stillborn baby begins to beat and her skin turns vibrantly, permanently cobalt blue. On the same day, the Rummanis' centuries-old soap factory in Nablus is destroyed in an air strike. The family matriarch and keeper of their lore, Aunt Nuha, believes that the blue girl embodies their sacred history, harkening back to a time when the Rummanis were among the wealthiest soap-makers and their blue soap was a symbol of a legendary love.

Decades later, Betty returns to Aunt Nuha's gravestone, faced with a difficult decision: Should she stay in the only country she's ever known, or should she follow her heart and the woman she loves, perpetuating her family's cycle of exile? Betty finds her answer in partially translated notebooks that reveal her aunt's complex life and struggle with her own sexuality, which Nuha hid to help the family immigrate to the United States. But, as Betty soon discovers, her aunt hid much more than that.

The Skin and Its Girl is a searing, poetic tale about desire and identity, and a provocative exploration of how we let stories divide, unite, and define us--and wield even the power to restore a broken family. Sarah Cypher is that rare debut novelist who writes with the mastery and flair of a seasoned storyteller.
Published Reviews
Booklist Review: "The conceit of this stirring debut is that its protagonist, Palestinian American Elspeth, is standing at her great-aunt Nuha's grave, recalling the story of her own life from her extraordinary birth with amazingly cobalt-blue skin until the fourth grade. It's not easy being blue, and Elspeth's neuroscientist mother, Tashi, battling mental illness, is determined to keep her daughter a secret, but she reluctantly agrees to let Elspeth live for the first year of her life with extravagant, formidable, stubborn, and misanthropic Nuha, who is a born storyteller. Elspeth will learn from those stories the history of her family, the Rummanis, in Palestine. We learn, too, that Nuha is a lesbian, as is Elspeth. Decades before, when Nuha was still living in Palestine, she was a servant to the Rummanis, but--being considered one of the family after saving their youngest son from being burned alive--she is given, by the paterfamilias, a suit of skin to wear. Obviously, there are elements of magic realism in this captivating novel about the importance of family and story, but more importantly, the tale is enriched by the presence of fully realized, multidimensional characters. Near the end of the novel, a character observes that there is no truth except in old women's tales. The same thing is true in the pages of this splendid first novel."
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review: "A young Palestinian American woman explores her identity in Cypher's lush debut. Elspeth Noura Rummani is born in the U.S. in the early aughts during heavy bombing from the Israeli military. Her skin is blue, the same shade as the soap produced by her family's factory in the West Bank, which is destroyed in the strikes, the last remnant of her family's legacy in Palestine. In the present day, Elspeth considers emigrating to her lover's unspecified homeland. Cypher frames Elspeth's narration as a direct address to Elspeth's great-aunt Nuha, who helped raise her and who's recently died. Nuha's a flamboyant presence, with her intimate knowledge of family history, brusque manner, and wealth of entertaining fables. Also, like Elspeth, Nuha was queer, though she kept this a secret from their family. Elspeth, though, hasn't found acceptance because of her blue skin. As Elspeth considers whether she belongs in the U.S. or abroad, she meditates on the nature of skin to explore the contradictions between appearances and identity. It makes for a captivating stream of consciousness: "You were not a linear person, preferring to stuff your discomforts and difficulties inside eddies and convolutions." With beautiful writing and evocative themes, this author makes a notable entrance. Agent: Adam Schear, DeFiore & Company. (Apr.)"
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Additional Information
Subjects Lesbian fiction.
Publisher New York :Ballantine Books,2023
Edition First edition.
Language English
Description pages cm
ISBN 9780593499535
Other Classic View