Posts Tagged Middle East

book review: I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

Title: I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced
Author: Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui
ISBN: 978-0307589675
Pages: 192
Publisher: Three Rivers Press (March 2, 2010)
Category: memoir, women’s issues
Review source: publisher
Rating: B+

My mother never said a thing. She seemed sad, but resigned. After all, she had wed through an arranged marriage, like most Yemeni women, so she was in a good position to know that in our country it’s the men who give the orders, and the women who follow them. For her to defend me was a waste of time.

Everyone heard the outrageous news story about the 10-year-old girl in Yemen granted a divorce. How could someone so young have even been married? This concept confused and angered Westerners, where there are laws against such disgusting behavior. Fortunately, many women and young girls in the Middle East also found solace and inspiration in the courage of Nujood Ali.

My life was taking a new turn in this world of grown-ups, where dreams no longer had a place, faces became masks, and no one seemed to care about me.

It hurt me to be talked to that way, with such contempt, and he made fun of me in front of others. I lived in permanent fear of more slaps and blows. Occasionally he even used his fists. Every day, fresh bruises on my back, new wounds on my arms. And that burning in my belly. I felt dirty everywhere.

In I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, Ali provides an unflinching, honest account of her horrific ordeal at the hands of a man three times her age. Her memoir sheds much needed light on archaic practices and the abuse of young girls and women around the world. Her father basically sells Nujood to this man without her knowledge or consent. He repeatedly rapes her and beats her. The thought is just disgusting and unimaginable though it happens throughout the world every day. Girls may not get married at age 10 in the United States and Western countries, but they are certainly sexually abused and enslaved by men. Ali is a typical girl growing up in a country that I associate with terrorism and poverty. She loves drawing with colored pencils, arithmetic and learning Arabic. Ali has dreams of becoming a lawyer just like her hero Shada, the woman who helped her escape the matrimonial bonds and nightmare into which men thrust her. Ali is a brave little girl who, despite her lack of education, managed to outwit her awful husband and beat the system. I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced provides a devastating and hopeful message that little girls in Yemen and other conservative Middle Eastern countries who find themselves in arranged marriages before they even hit puberty sometimes find someone who will listen to them. Sometimes someone will take notice of the injustice. The unfortunate truth is that most of these little girls cannot read I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced.

Yemen facts
[sources: CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Embassy of the Republic of Yemen web site, BBC]

–the median age of women in Yemen is 17
–only 30% of females age 15 and over can read and write [50% total population, 70% males]
–45% live below poverty line
–Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East
–the custom of chewing the narcotic plant khat in the afternoons is still widely observed
–main exports of Yemen: Crude oil, cotton, coffee, fish
–the terrorist threat level in Yemen remains high and Americans and foreigners are in constant danger
— Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula established itself in Yemen after it was forced out of Saudi Arabia
— on October 12, 2000 a terrorist group attacked the U. S. S. Cole in the port of Aden. The group used a boat loaded with explosives, killing 17 American sailors and injuring 28 others
— on September 17, 2008, armed terrorists attacked the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a [Yemen capitol]
–Yemen is the first country in the Arabian Peninsula to give women the right to vote, have women as Members of Parliament and to appoint a woman as Minister for Human Rights

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book review: Small Kingdoms

Title: Small Kingdoms
Author: Anastasia Hobbet
Pages: 344
Publisher: The Permanent Press (January 15, 2010)
Category: fiction
Review source: publisher
Rating: A

He registered Theo’s skepticism with a nod. “Kuwait is far worse. The class-consciousness here will shock you. If you’re not Kuwaiti born and bred, you’re no one; and if you’re so unfortunate as to be a South Asian housemaid or laborer, you’re worthless, invisible, and in constant danger. Look at me. I’m an Arab. I’ve lived here for twenty years. But I’m not a Kuwaiti citizen because I’m Palestinian. The reason they didn’t run me out during the war is because I’m a good businessman—and I’m married to Jane. Only Jordan has offered citizenship to Palestinians. No other Arab nation has done this, though the Israelis droves us from our homes in 1948. The Kuwaitis put up with us because we’re well-educated and willing to work hard. We make lots of money for them. But they don’t like us and they don’t trust us. They think we’re vulgar and inferior. So we live in our neighborhoods and they live in theirs.”

Anastasia Hobbet beautifully crafted a complex, layered story about the abuse of a household servant in Kuwait. This event draws together a wide variety of people who may never associate with each other: Theo, an American from California, working at a hospital clinic; Mufeeda, an upper-class Kuwaiti woman; Hanaan, a Palestinian female activist; Kit, a rather naïve American from Oklahoma, whose husband is an engineer for an American construction company and lives in the same wealthy neighborhood as Mufeeda; and Emanuella, a cook from India, who risks losing her sponsorship to remain in Kuwait.

Moving from character to character and each individual story, Hobbet provides a rich background about life in Kuwait and the complex structure of the Middle East where class divisions remain strong, Americans and British are simultaneously despised [“Americans aren’t exotic. How can they be? Everyone knows America outside and inside. You’re all over the television and movies.”] and coveted [Mufeeda’s children attend a private school where they learn English], arcane laws and customs [sometimes honor killings still secretly occur] remain in place, yet Kuwait, compared to other Arab nations appears modern.

Small Kingdoms reads part-history, part-character study and part-mystery. It’s an elaborate work of literature. Hobbet enlightens us about the modern day Middle East which still has many flaws and disparity despite its outward appearances, especially Kuwait, an ally of the United States. Hobbet meticulously crafted and developed each character in such a detailed way that the reader begins to understand his or her motives. Each character jumps off the page so vividly and memorably. Despite being from different social, economic, political, and religious backgrounds, Hobbet makes us empathize with each character and gradually know why each character is how he or she is which makes the plot flow with poise and grace. The most brutal event brings together people who might never normally speak or socialize to solve a vital issue that makes all the difference to someone’s life. Small Kingdoms speaks boldly and elegantly about the power of humanity and honesty in the name of justice and fairness, by putting aside religion and politics to help someone less fortunate. Just to take a few moments to quiet down, stop and show empathy and compassion every once in a while. Small Kingdoms is a stunning novel: in its powerful story and masterful writing.

Look for Small Kingdoms at your local Indie Bookseller on January 15.

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