PLOT: 3/5 CHARACTERS: 3/5 WRITING STYLE: 3/5 CLIMAX: 3/5 ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 3/5
Drawing from the discussions made with Filipino domestic helpers in Dubai, Maid in Dubai is another addition to the broad arena of expatriate literature in English from the Gulf. The tagline of the novel, ‘Dusting Sand. Changing a Life’ reiterates the idea of earning riches in the Gulf which is a dream destination for many from the South Asian and far East Asian countries.
The tagline provides a gist of the issue at hand in the book that hints at the idea of bringing about a change in one’s life by dusting the sand as a household helper in a desert city. The title gets even more engrossing. The pun on the word ‘maid’ immediately brings forth the central character and echoes the idea of a rags-to-riches story that may not be true for everyone.
Hence, though Dubai may have a lot on offer, not everyone gets made in Dubai. In other words, not everyone is favoured and the other side of the glitz and glamour of Dubai is far from glittery.
The book cover is symbolic of this issue at hand. With the upside-down Burj Khalifa that suggests a turn down in opportunities and an overall decline in growth, the mop is replaced with a dishevelled broom to go with the idea of a basic, maybe primitive, and even laborious life as a household helper in Dubai. This echoes the age-old adage, that all that glitters is not gold and there are always two if not more sides to a meta-narrative like making it big in the Gulf.
Maid in Dubai opens with a prologue that is narrated in the first-person point of view as is the case with the narrative voice throughout the book. It relays the initial impression of a Filipino lady about her work and new accommodation in Dubai where she is employed as a maid.
However, she does not consider herself a maid for her clients and prefers to be termed as a service provider who is providing her services in return for payment. She shares a bedroom with 5 other women in the neighbouring Emirate called Sharjah.
The prologue gives a brief idea about her expectations and how far those expectations were or were not met apart from letting the reader know that the rest of the book is a collection of notes that were made mostly on her bad days at work which were fairly, too many.
The notes begin in the Summer of 2008 which makes her realize that destiny brought her to Dubai and this idea has a tone of excitement that is attached to the high-end riches available in Dubai. This is juxtaposed with a detailed history of her social and class background along with her personal and familial details. It is also here that we learn that her name is Aubrey.
The illness of her mother and financial strains in the family push her to seek better opportunities from her humble background which makes her venture into Dubai. She learns about the prospect of jobs in Dubai from her cousin Grace who works as a sales assistant at Robinsons’ Department store. Aubrey is lured by the idea of a hefty paycheque and a lavish lifestyle. Aubrey’s wish to make it big makes her switch jobs from being a store manager to joining a cleaning company in Dubai.
The section titled Autumn 2008 takes these struggles further with a few light and subtly humorous scenes, though the demeaning behaviour of clients, the difficult and labour-heavy tasks, clubbed with the nostalgia of old times, and the memories of home bear testimony to the reality. Alongside the usual stress of work politics is the fear of being wrongly framed, the horrors of being manipulated, and the effect of being mistreated which put Aubrey in a state of shock.
Yet, her monetary needs push her to continue toiling. Winter 2008 is subtly revelatory of social possibilities faced by lower-class expatriates in the Gulf while Spring 2008 explores emotional agony, betrayal, and loss of love. Summer 2009, Autumn 2009, and Winter 2009 follow suit though things start to intensify that gather pace from Summer 2010 in a book that spans over 267 pages making for a lengthy read.
Aubrey is the image of a simple girl from a humble background who is forced by the pressures of financial issues to pursue a life in a foreign land. She is inexperienced, rather naïve, and is shown to give up on her education and has to relocate to Dubai in the hope of making money. However, her experiences are sour though she is not the only one whose hopes are dashed.
A parallel can be drawn to Aubrey with the character called Najeeb from Goat Days who has similar horrifying experiences and is bruised for life. There are innumerable tales of lower-class workers who are engaged in miscellaneous jobs in the Gulf and face violence and humiliation from their employers. The lack of migrant rights increases their chances of being unable to call for help or come out of their situation easily.
The writing style of Maid in Dubai is easy to follow, uses moderately difficult vocabulary with apt word choices, and has a flow of expression that makes for an engaging read. The narrative voice may remain in the first person throughout the text but it is interspersed with dialogues that bring forth other foil characters and side roles that assert their opinions and shape the decisions of Aubrey.
The first-person narrator speaks with reflexive pronouns and keeps the pace of the story going which is neither too fast nor too slow. The narrative voice remains honest, and thoroughly detailed, and oscillates between fear and excitement of migration.
The text also mentions full-length emails that find complete mention with respect to their purpose-driven agenda of showing the myriad steps in the tedious and lengthy paperwork process of getting employment in Dubai, not to forget the agencies and their agents in between in the face of competition in the cheap Asian labour supply market.
All of these allow the plot to take a step further in the progression towards the twists and turns that are in plenty. There are also newspaper clippings that find mention. The plot moves in a unidirectional manner for the most part except for digressions in between which highlight some or the other important aspect of the protagonist and her journey.
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