On the eve of her fortieth birthday Egyptian academic, Professor Hanaa, finds herself alone and unloved. For twenty years she has battled with an impossible love for an unattainable colleague, and has become outcast in a society where family and friends mean everything. Her life is organised into endless routines, and her emotions are hidden behind a facade of stern, but joyless professionalism. The facade begins to crumble, however, when her birthday brings with it the realisation that she is about to turn into an embittered, forty-year-old spinster. Never one to admit defeat, Hanaa determines she will lose her virginity before her birthday, and sets her sights on Khalid, her teaching assistant. An earnest, hardworking and devout young man, Khalid is an unlikely accomplice; however Hanaa's powers of persuasion know no bounds. What ensues is a lively, witty, often sly commentary on gender and power relationships in both academia and the Arab world-a 'campus' novel of a wholly different bent.