Promised Virgins: A Novel of Jihad
Promised Virgins echoes of stories already told; they howl and yowl in your ear as Jeffrey Fleishman whispers and intimates, ever beseeching that you withstand his narrative a moment longer. Fleishman relies on the threads of past to weave his story, devices used before by film writers and the novelists who inspired them. Perhaps that is why the spirits bellow in your ear as you read; it is all too familiar, too ready to be seen as images flitting across a screen, even more so than it is to be read.
Begun like a tale of Arabian Nights, and threaded as such throughout, this story begins on the eve of a war. It is on the eve of U.S. involvement in Bosnia, when a woman and a man meet in darkness. It is a time when fates are still unraveling, and a mysterious bearded man bearing dates on a mule can upset the inertia and create jihad.
Told by Jay and from his point of view, this is the story not of him but of relationships–of his own and of those near him. Mostly, however, like so many other books, this is a story about a girl, Alija, and about the man who loves her, Jay.
Alija is an Albanian, a girl Jay found in a refugee camp who assumed the role of his translator. As Jay and Brian traipse across the country searching for the Dateman, Alija comes along searching for her missing brother. And as the conflict begins to assume stronger shades of religious strife, Jay queries, “What is it about spirituality and the unspoiled woman?” in response to himself as he imagines Vijay, a local reporter friend, would, that “temptation and virtue move through chaos,” as does Alija.
Alija, the central character, is not a promised virgin. She is spoiled, yet the narrative elevates her to the position of the only pristine character and a ready contrast is provided to the only other female character in the novel, Megan. Jay, sleeps with both; however, he only sleeps with Megan in the metaphoric sense. Megan is giving, a doctor who follows conflict and encounters its hardships in the worst ways while she is never a participant or a victim. First encountering her in this incarnation, Jay’s first remembers how she would cry during sex. While the others give of themselves willingly, Alija is taken. Alija, however, rarely cries.