About the book

Brilliant is a collection of short stories set in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, a polyglot city where cultures collide and converge, where money — and sometimes justice — is no object, where in less than two generations towers have replaced tents. In these stories, a cast of characters — an Egyptian pastry chef, a Filipina nanny, a Canadian nurse, a lusty French urban planner, a newly destitute British couple, and a cross-dressing Emirati — navigate this land of sudden plenty, discovering the limits of freedom, money, tolerance and their own good sense.

About the author

Roig, Denise

Denise Roig is the author of two critically received collections of short stories: A Quiet Night and a Perfect End (Nuage Editions), and Any Day Now (Signature Editions), and the memoir Butter Cream: A Year in a Montreal Pastry School (Signature Editions). Denise’s first collection was translated in 2000 as Le Vrai Secret du bonheur (Éditions de la Pleine Lune) and her fiction has been heard on CBC’s Between the Covers. As a journalist, Denise’s work has appeared in The Gazette (Montreal) and The National (Abu Dhabi). Denise is the co-editor, with her husband Raymond Beauchemin, of two anthologies of Quebec English literature: Future Tense and The Urban Wanderers Reader.

Born in New York, raised in Los Angeles, and a longtime resident of Montreal, Denise moved to Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, in 2008. She now lives in Hamilton, Ontario.


from Rice Dreams

That first day – no pay – Bashir had paired him up with Little Ali, Big Ali’s nephew from Aleppo. At the end of an hour Bashir could see that Karim was faster and smarter than Little Ali, who ducked out every half hour for a smoke and to text his “cousin” back home. (Bashir suspected it was really a girlfriend.) There was no getting rid of him because of Big Ali, but Bashir had pushed to take on Karim. They needed another body in the kitchen, what with Sheikh Mohammed and his mahmoul and National Day coming and Little Ali doing less and less. No pay for the first two weeks, but room – even if this was sometimes a bag of flour – and board: a share of the food Annabelle cooked for them every noon.

The bosses still sometimes questioned the rightness of a woman in the kitchen. But then Big Ali would invite them down from the offices upstairs for a plate or send lunch up in a nice takeaway container. And that would be it for complaints until the next time someone would get a bee in his ghutra about “a girl down there” and remind them they were getting away with something not quite halal. Annabelle’s lunch specials silenced them.

“Annabelle? She come in today?” From his second day, Karim had asked this every morning.

“Of course, she comes in. How many times do I have to tell you?” Bashir said. He was too tired for stupid questions. God love Sheikh Mohammed, masha’allah, but it was late and he’d been standing all day, all night, with only an hour on the flour bag. “Get me the scale. Go!”

Even after three years, Bashir knew only a little about Annabelle, and nothing about how she’d landed the unlikely job of cooking Filipino food every day for a bunch of Arab pastry guys. Annabelle was tiny with a long braid and a smile even Big Ali couldn’t fight. She wore one outfit at all times: a pink T-shirt with rhinestones spelling “Crown Jewels” and tight jeans. It took a year for Big Ali to convince her she had to wear a chef’s jacket and one of the white, elasticized caps if she wanted to work in the kitchen.

“You want me to look like a dork, Big Al?” Annabelle talked like an American teenager who spent her days reading fan magazines. How old she was, no one knew or dared ask, though it was discussed endlessly among the guys. Big Ali thought she must be around 30; Bashir put her closer to 40. Karim, when they asked him – a rite of initiation on his first day – said, “Oh, no, Miss Annabelle is young! She is … 22!”

By now they knew what she made every day of the week: Sundays, tofu and black beans; Mondays, chicken pie; Tuesdays, mechado; Wednesday, chop suey; Thursdays, pansit Canton with shrimp; and Saturdays, “surprise meal,” as Annabelle called everyone’s favourite: a stew with small, perfect squares of supremely tender meat in a smoky barbecue sauce. Lamb, some thought. Veal, Little Ali once volunteered and everyone had laughed. Veal? Their tight bosses would spring for veal? Big Ali knew it was beef. “I see the packages!” he insisted. But Annabelle would never confirm what the meat was. “That’s why it’s called surprise,” she said with her blazing smile, though every now and then she’d say it was pork and watch their faces. “Such good Muslim boys,” she’d sigh. “I’d never do that to you.”


Denise Roig's latest collection of stories, Brilliant, reveals the dark side of life in the United Arab Emirates. But it also reflects the omnipresent sunlight, the expanse of the turquoise gulf, the glistening skyscrapers, the newness of the entire place… >>

— Shelley Pomerance Montréal Centre-Ville

Denise Roig is the author of a number of books, including “A Quiet Night & A Perfect End” (a collection of short stories). She moved to Abu Dhabi in 2008 but now lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

To… >>

— Peter Chambers The Quantified Expat

With its stunning cover, contrasting the architectural details of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque with the elemental sand which is its underpinning, Denise Roig’s collection of interconnected stories opens a vibrantly exotic and alien world to English-speaking readers. Illustrating the… >>

— Mary Whipple Seeing the World Through Books

Speaking on the phone from her home in Hamilton, Denise Roig sounds every inch the homesick former Montrealer.

“If you’ve lived for 20 years in Montreal, southern Ontario is as foreign a country as Abu Dhabi is,”… >>

— Ian McGillis Montreal Gazette

An Egyptian pastry chef. A Canadian nanny. A philandering Frenchman. A Filipina maid. This multifarious cast of characters nearly climbs off the page in Denise Roig’s new volume of short stories, Brilliant. Set entirely in Abu Dhabi, capital of the… >>

— Rebecca Galloway Rover

Denise Roig’s new collection of short fiction Brilliant is set in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Drawing on her experiences as a reporter for Abu Dhabi’s English-language newspaper The National, Roig portrays a city which… >>

— Jeff Miller Cult MTL

In Brilliant, the dazzling promise of wealth and opportunity quickly fades in the Abu Dhabi heat. Denise Roig’s newest collection of short stories is set in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, where she worked as a journalist from… >>

— Dan Twerdochlib The Winnipeg Review

Brilliant is an apt title for Denise Roig’s third collection of short stories in which the word itself becomes a refrain like a dropped jewel appearing randomly in a variety of contexts. The word describes Abu Dhabi, that shining city… >>

— Judy LeBlanc The Malahat Review

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