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Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know

"An art history mystery packed with Parisian passion and the voice of a woman from centuries past"

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LoveReading Says

LoveReading Says

Shot-through with a vital message about the importance of giving voice and rightful representation to women who’ve been silenced by centuries of patriarchy, this smart novel melds an intriguing art history mystery with Parisian amour.

While Khayyam is clear about what she wants to do with her life - become a respected art historian - her identity is more complex. She’s “French American. Indian American. Muslim American. Biracial. Interfaith.” As such, “Others look at me and try to shove me into their own narrative to define who and what I am. But I’m not a blank page that everyone else gets to write on. I have my own voice.” This statement weaves through the whole novel, which sees Khayyam in Paris for the summer, still reeling from a relationship gone awry back home in Chicago, and from her Young Scholar Prize essay being dismissed as “the work of a dilettante, not a future art historian”.

When she happens to run into a cute Parisian boy, who happens to be a descendent of bi-racial French writer Alexandre Dumas, Khayyam and said cute boy (also called Alexandre) embark on an intellectual voyage that leads them to Leila, a nineteenth-century Muslim woman connected to Dumas and Byron. Leila’s forgotten life and silenced voice is revealed through her letters, with Khayyam frequently asserting her desire to right the wrong of “the entire world dehumanizing and erasing this woman who had a life, who mattered.” Through Khayyam the novel also addresses issues around representation and cultural appropriation as she wrestles with determining who has the right to tell Leila’s story, including herself. As Khayyam’s findings hot up, so too does her love life. First there’s the spark between her and Alexandre, then there’s the simmering presence of her Chicagoan ex.

With Paris vibrantly evoked as her stage - its history, architecture, secret gardens and food - Leila’s personal life and intellectual prowess combine to create a life-changing summer. This comes hugely commended - and recommended - for its portrayal of an intelligent young woman who refuses to bow to expectations, and who’s determined to give voice to the voiceless. Like Khayyam, it’s smart, thoughtful and inspirational.

Joanne Owen

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