Cutting Loose by Nadine Dajani

In Cutting Loose Nadine Dajani explores the lives of three women faced with a crossroads in their lives.  Over the course of the novel, they step outside the boundaries of their comfort zones in order to transition, change and grow.

Ranya has been pampered and spoiled all of her life by her Saudi Arabian family, but she is forced to face life on her own and without any resources after she finds out that her husband is gay and her family cuts her off when she refuses to return home to them. Zahra is from a poor Palestinian family who made sure that she got the education that she needed to become successful, all the better to earn enough money to support them. Even though she has managed to do all that they require, she doesn’t enjoy her work, and is in love with her boss, George, who doesn’t return her feelings. In her own quiet way Zahra is trying to figure her way out of an untenable situation. The trio is rounded out by Rio, a successful magazine editor from Honduras. Rio has climbed from poverty to success and she has well-defined goals along with the determination to see them through; she also has big and strong ideas about what she wants. However, Rio has some decisions to make as her affair with the boss’ younger brother Joe threatens to undermine the career and magazine she worked so hard to attain.

I really enjoyed this lovely novel about working women who are making changes and trying to either hold on to the place that they’ve created for themselves in the world, but at the same time working toward expansion and growth. The women aren’t necessarily friends with each other; in fact both George and Joe are both taken with Ranya, much to the dismay of Zahra and Rio, who are at odds with each other with other over the magazine that Rio edits.  That was a wonderful change from the regular script of friends working together to overcome the odds – o matter what their differences, and competing interests, they have to work together either to solve a problem or to maintain the status quo with the men in their lives.

The characters were well-developed and the novel, which is told through their alternating perspectives, is consistent in their characterization, and it was easy to follow their stories. I like that I got a different view of the lives of Middle Eastern women. It was really refreshing to see a different type of Middle Eastern woman’s life, ones that I wasn’t sure existed. While Ranya’s family definitely has cut her off and wants her to come back home, she has been educated and is adored by her family, and her mother is genuinely concerned about her and the problems that she is having in her marriage.  Ranya is just like any other spoiled child who defies her parents and finds that she has to make her way on her own for awhile.  In contrast, Zahra is from a poorer Palestinian family who is relying on her to make their fortune.

Rio is constantly trying to keep her place in a male-dominated world after struggling to overcome her poor Honduran upbringing, and struggles with her identity as a darker-skinned, curvaceous woman in a place like Miami, which is dominated by a beach ideal that she does not fit.  Rio is such a rich character and her point of view was deeply nuanced, but I was still disturbed to see that she had the most explicit and the highest number of sexual encounters in the novel.  But I cared about her, as I cared about all of them.  I was particularly interested in the way that Zahra would deal with her family concerns as they competed with her interests and I wanted to know how she would work that out.

Cutting Loose was a great read with a lot more depth than you would expect from the girls-gone-wild cover.  I was wary of the book when seeing the cover, but glad that I continued to read because it was a lovely surprise.

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