Denver Bar Association
February 2009
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“A Thousand Veils”

by Becky Bye

Inspired by his own pro bono work, author lifts symbolic and literal veils in tale of New York lawyer, Iraqi mother

As September 11, 2001 changed the future of our country and the world, many Americans began to ponder the West’s relationship with the Middle East. In the fast-paced novel "A Thousand Veils" lawyer-turned-author, D.J. Murphy, examines the relationship between the post-September 11 United States and Iraq, from a unique and fresh perspective.

The novel begins by describing the life of Fatima Shihabi, a single-mother, closeted poet, and journalist in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Fatima is strong-willed and opinionated. She loathes the status quo of Hussein’s oppressive dictatorship over the citizens of Iraq.

As Hussein’s government threatens to kill anyone who shows disloyalty, Fatima finds subtle ways to document the terror and atrocities she witnesses as a journalist for the local newspaper. When Fatima receives the chance to write for others outside Iraq, in hopes of helping the citizens of Iraq, she courageously risks her life to do so.

As she hears more brutal stories, Fatima realizes she must flee the country before Hussein’s police get to her and her family. When she is caught in Saudi Arabia on her way back to Iraq, she calls on the only lifeline she thinks could help — one of her brothers, Omar, a professor in New York.

Enter Charles Sherman, a workaholic partner at a large New York law firm who is well known as a "dealmaker" for corporate mergers and other transactions. When a fellow partner asks Sherman to take on Fatima’s time-sensitive pro bono case, based on his past business ties with Saudi Arabian bigwigs, he is reluctant, and even resentful. He begins working on the case with disinterest. But as Sherman gets to know Omar and learns more about Fatima’s situation and her independent spirit, he grows intrigued. He begins to love Fatima. Soon, he finds himself traveling across the globe with Omar to meet with Fatima, after he successfully secures her asylum in France. They discover, however, that Fatima’s journey to reach freedom from Iraq’s government has only begun. All three of them are now targets for Hussein’s posse.

Sherman puts his life on the line for Fatima, whom he now loves. However, he has his own set of complications in the United States. His longtime girlfriend, Sarah, an independent-minded artist (and, in my opinion, his own equivalent of Fatima) pressures him to spend more time with her and work less. His firm’s biggest client, Witherspoon, presses him to seal a large Wall Street deal. All the while, Sherman is haunted by his escape from death on September 11. He and Witherspoon left the twin towers unscathed just minutes before the attacks.

Sherman struggles under his own veil — the veil of a successful, workaholic lawyer whose own internal crises are deep within. The author parallels the struggles of Sherman in the U.S. alongside the struggles of Iraq and Fatima.

Throughout the novel, the author masters the transition of writing styles, from narrative and literary to suspenseful and mostly dialogue. The style of the writing, coupled with the interesting themes, twists and relevance to the practice of law, made this book a very swift read. I literally could not put the book down.

If you are looking for an interesting novel integrating religion, Septempber 11, Iraq, feminism, Muslim prayer, veils (both physical and metaphorical) and the pressures of the practice of law, I highly recommend this relevant and thoughtful novel by D.J. Murphy. Murphy wrote this novel to reflect his own experience and his pro bono practice. After reading "A Thousand Veils," I am sure that Murphy’s practice was not only emotionally engaging, but highly intriguing and satisfying.

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