The Servant by Fatima Sharafeddine, translated by Fatima Sharafeddine
At 15, Faten is uprooted from her village life to become a live-in servant to a wealthy family in Beirut, where violence from the ongoing Lebanese Civil War seems neverending. Her father’s decision to pull her out of school, to indenture her away from all that is familiar, is final; even Faten’s mother cannot undo his harsh verdict. For two years, Faten glimpses only her father once a month when he comes to Beirut to pick up her tiny salary. Her only city friend is an immigrant from Sierra Leone who also works as a servant in the same building, whom she is allowed to visit for a few hours on Sundays.
In spite of missing two years of high school, Faten decides she must figure out a way to achieve her dream of becoming a nurse. She realizes that education is her only chance to escape a lifetime of servitude. The young man who lives in the next building, who she sees everyday from the balcony, might just be the outside help she needs. With the passing of a single note, she allows herself to hope for a different future.
Lebanese-born, peripatetically-domiciled picture book author Fatima Sharafeddine, twice nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (regarded as the international children’s book prize with a 5 million Swedish krona/$770,000 payout!), writes her first-ever title for young adults; she also translates her own work from Arabic to English.
While her focus in Servant is on Faten whose socioeconomic status clearly puts her at a disadvantage, Sharafeddine also draws compelling attention to the plight of girls and young women overall, regardless of a family’s net worth. In spite of her fancy school, designer clothes, and many friends, May, the older daughter in Faten’s employer’s family, lives in a gilded cage, on regular display for the perfect suitor who will ensure her future as a wife and mother before she has even finished her teenage years. In this girls’ world, privilege and poverty are not as contradictory as they might seem …
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Published: 2010, 2013 (Canada, United States)