cover image The Coin

The Coin

Yasmin Zaher. Catapult, $27 (240p) ISBN 978-1-64622-210-0

In Zaher’s hypnotic debut, an obsessive Palestinian woman flees her oppressive homeland for Manhattan and employs increasingly unorthodox methods to teach English at the private school where she works. The unnamed narrator lives comfortably on an allowance from the estate of her parents, who died years earlier in a car accident. She fills her free time with elaborate ablutions and stays up late cleaning and organizing her apartment, to the point that she’s so exhausted during class she can’t stay on her feet. Disregarding the standard curriculum in favor of harsh life lessons (love is akin to being “taken hostage”), she gives her students bizarre assignments such as extracting confessions from their family members. She chalks up her strange behavior to a coin she remembers swallowing as a child, which she imagines remains lodged in her back. Zaher’s writing is deeply arresting, especially when her narrator is energized by her newfound sense of self-possession in New York, where she walks the streets wearing a “violent” and “sexual” perfume and carries a Birkin bag, which thrillingly transforms her into an object of desire (“I came from a place where a bag could never have power, where only violence spoke. And suddenly I had something that others wanted to possess, I was a woman who others wanted to embody”). It’s a tour de force. Agent: Monika Woods, Triangle House. (July)