Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Saudi Arabia”

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #72: Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Anyone who reads Infidel will never be the same. No woman will be the same. No man will be the same. If you are unchanged after reading Infidel, shame on you!

Infidel is the memoir of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali woman raised in northern Africa in the 1960s and ‘70s. Ayaan spent her earliest years in Somalia during the period of her father’s imprisonment by the Somali dictatorship for political resistance, and then fled with her family to Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and Kenya, at every step enduring isolation, suffocating dependency, the abuse of her increasingly embittered mother and grandmother, and the growing strength of the Muslim Brotherhood surrounding every aspect of her life. Ayaan suffered firsthand not only the strictures of her Muslim religion within the family—including genital excision at age 5, constant beatings and mockery, virtual indentured servitude, and arranged marriage—but the increasing fanaticism of the Muslim world around her. As her family more and more closely embraced Islam as the rock in their ever-shifting lives, Ayaan struggled to break free and discover herself as a thinking questioning individual. Eventually, she fled marriage with a husband she had not chosen, hid from a family duty-bound to hunt her down and drag her back to the fold, and sought asylum in Holland, a world as foreign to her as Saudi Arabia would be to most of us.

In her new life, Ayaan had to literally re-invent herself. Completely alone, she worked in multiple jobs of every sort to pay for rent, food, and tuition in school, while teaching herself new languages, history, economics, politics, and adopting new cultural paradigms for herself. She eventually became a Dutch citizen and parliamentarian in order to champion the rights of Muslim women, in particular, who constitute a large segment of the immigrants in Western Europe. Her public rejection of Islam led to death threats, tragedy, political crisis, and her eventual flight to the U.S. where she continues to write, teach, and agitate for change. Described as a “female Salman Rushdie”, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has lived a life few of us in the West could imagine and opens our eyes to a reality many in the West choose to ignore in the name of cultural relativism or, worse, political expediency.

Infidel is not only the memoir of a strikingly courageous woman, but a frightening reminder that humanity still has a long way to go.

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #7: City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris

Zoe Ferraris brings us another fascinating murder mystery that takes place in Saudi Arabia, her second in what could well become a series of novels showcasing the detective skills—and burgeoning romance–of forensic scientist Katya and desert guide Nayir. As with her first novel Finding Nouf, Ferraris opens City of Veils with the discovery of the seriously mutilated corpse of a young woman. Because Katya works for the police, she manages to get access to autopsy reports, criminal evidence and the ongoing murder investigation itself, and as an enlightened Saudi woman who daily battles sexual discrimination on her job and on the street, she once again feels compelled to step forward and give an identity, a voice, and hopefully justice to the victim.

As in her first novel, Ferraris peoples City of Veils with an array of characters representing the cultural spectrum that is Saudi Arabia. She has conservative traditionalists, both men and women, who embrace the suffocatingly rigid guidelines that they feel define them as Muslim, and on the other side, self-liberated Muslim men and women who risk censure, ostracism, jail and even execution to express themselves as individuals, first and foremost. While Ferraris is careful not to portray all the traditionalists as the bad guys, and not all the “enlightened” Muslims as the good guys, she leaves no doubt where her sympathies lie and sometimes her characters on the ends of the spectrum come off as too stereotyped. As a result, I found that the subtle pull and tug between the more enlightened Katya and the just-awakening Nayir is where Ferraris wages her battle most effectively.

What I found especially provocative about this second novel is that Ferraris imbeds in her plot a discussion of the dangers of literalist, or fundamentalist worship, that while addressed to Muslim fundamentalism, I found equally applicable to all the religions. As one of her characters puts it, “The idea that there’s only one way to read (the Koran, the Bible, the Torah), reduces the whole book to something flat. It’s not dynamic anymore. It can’t keep up with the changes in humanity. It just becomes an ornament.”  That argument, which horrifies Nayir who was taught that the Koran is “pure,” the word of Allah, unchanged and unchangeable, resonates in Nayir’s mind—and the reader’s—through much of the book.

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #4: Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris

Finding Nouf, the debut novel of American author Zoe Ferraris, is both a murder mystery and a love story, and it excels on both counts. The 16-year-old daughter of a severely traditional and wealthy Saudi family, Nouf ash-Shrawi is found drowned in the desert just days before her arranged marriage, and is discovered during autopsy to be several weeks pregnant. Did she kill herself, did she run away and get lost in the punishing sands, or was she murdered? If murdered, potential suspects abound, ranging from her unknown lover to her bereaved fiancé to her family.

Along comes devout Muslim Nayir, a Palestininian who was reared in Saudi Arabia, who knows the desert like the back of his hand, and who is asked by friend Othman, the adopted son of the Shrawi family, to investigate her death. But to get inside the veiled society of Saudi women and uncover the truth, Nayir must join forces with Othman’s fiancée Katya, an educated woman who works in the coroner’s office and who has her own reasons for seeking the truth about the girl’s death. Nayir’s first problem is to figure out how to collaborate on a murder investigation with a woman without being alone with her or looking directly at her, or getting caught by the religious police doing either. As he follows the clues to solving the mystery, the lonely Nayir discovers some fundamental truths about men, women, and a social order with which he no longer comfortably identifies. The author adopts what could have been an awkward writing style, switching back and forth between the thought processes of both Nayir and Katya, and yet she succeeds in giving us a penetrating view of Saudi social, religious and cultural practices from both a man and woman’s perspective.

As a foreign observer of Saudi society, Ferraris presents a pretty brutal picture of a culture steeped in hypocrisy and sexual frustration. Her depiction of the majority male view of women as either untouchable madonnas or as irresistible whores—or both—did not surprise me. What I did find shocking was her portrayal of Saudi women as all too often complicit in their own self-enslavement. Mothers imposing this same madonna/whore duality upon their own daughters, and sisters upon sisters. She also shows us a class structure as rigid as stone, prevalent ethnic and religious intolerance, and a seething violence just beneath the surface.  And, yet despite the painful picture she weaves with her novel, Ferraris makes a point of showing us where the tapestry has begun to fray and where both rebellion and enlightenment are starting to make an appearance.

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