Shovelmonkey1's Reviews > Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women

Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks
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Jun 18, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: bookcrossing-books, middle-east, read-in-2011, islam
Recommended for: anyone interested in Islam
Read from June 18 to 20, 2011 , read count: 1

Aaargh. I just wrote a bloody long review of this book then the ******* goodreads website ate it. Anyway, starting over....

" Read, in the name of thy Lord
Who hath created all things, who
Hath created man of congealed blood.
Read, by thy most beneficent Lord,
Who taught us the use of the pen,
who teaches man that which he knoweth not."

The Koran: The Chapter of Congealed Blood

I have been living, working and travelling in the Middle East since I was nineteen years old. That's over eleven years now. In that time I have taken buses, boats, service taxis, trains, planes, lorries, scooters, camels and horses to get across Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. I've travelled from the Iraqi Border to Istanbul, from Aqaba to Aleppo and still have yet to reconcile my feelings on various attitudes towards women. I suspect it is something I will never fully make my peace with.

Geraldine Brooks has written an approachable, easy-to-read guide to the Koran and what is says about women. She makes a clear distinction between the teachings of the Koran and the Hadith as how they are then interpreted by various different groups. Interpretations vary widely across the pan-Islamic world hence the variety of rules and regulations which govern womens lives vary quite greatly from country to country. However, this is only a very introductory guide - this is not a definitive examination... go out, seek other books and talk to other women! You will not finish this book and walk away with a complete and unbiased understanding of the Islamic faith in its many, rich and varied forms.

Brooks, in a relatively privileged position as an established journo was able to talk to numerous successful powerful women, including Queen Noor of Jordan, several of her female advisers and one of the daughters of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Not your average cross section of middle eastern women by any stretch of the imagination.

My time in the Middle East usually involved living and working in fairly rural communities, although that said, I also lived in Aqaba for a fair period of time and the shores of Red Sea at Aqaba are graced with a pizza hut, a Radisson and a Movenpick hotel - not exactly small potatoes.

The women I have met, like Brooks' group, came from a variety of backgrounds; young professionals who went sans headscarf in the city, young village wives newly married, family matriarchs and government officials. A gentleman who used to work for me had two wives; a town wife and a country wife. Country wife was the first wife and a marriage of love. She lived off the desert highway in a small freeholding with goats, sheep, chickens, vines and a lovingly tended vegetable patch. She was unable to have children so a second wife, the town wife had been acquired through an arranged marriage. Town wife was young, spangly and lived in a small modern air conditioned apartment with a big TV. Quite a stark contract to the beautiful but humble dwelling of the wife out in the country who drew her water from the well. Both wives knew of each others existence but chose not to live together in the same house.

All of the men I have worked with have treated me with kindness, respect and deference. They have paid me what they believe is their highest compliment, often telling me that i'm "as good as man". As massively sexist as that sounds it is just the way they see things and I'm not about to cack-handedly try to alter their benchmark or world view. Through them I met their charming, erudite, spirited and happy wives and daughters who were knowledgeable and talented at things I was not. Sure I got my "good as a man tag" by being good at 4x4 off road desert driving and being a good marksman when handed a rifle or semi automatic, but I cannot sew, weave, bake bread, sing, dance or grow and maintain a magnificent garden in an arid desert environment. If I lived in the Middle East I think I would value those talents more too. As a woman who has lived and worked in these countries I can empathise with some of the situations that Brooks describes. Here are my top 5 "not great being a woman" experiences, in no particular order:

1. Having my ass groped in Martyr Square, Damscus (I avenged myself by punching the offending busy-handed git by smacking him in the side of the head. The two French guys I was travelling with were very surprised by the sudden flurry of violence as they hadn't noticed what was going on. NB many local gents drinking tea in the vicinity applauded - apparently avenging honour is not just a male perogative).

2. Having my breasts grabbed while walking along the Corniche in Alexandria. Strolling along, minding my own when a boy of about 13 ran up put out both hands, grabbed, squeezed and then legged it. Random.

3. The Tampax Police, Amman - While departing from Amman I was searched in the ladies privacy booth by a female security guard who was lovely and polite and patient to my child-like arabic. She emptied my bag and out fell a cluster of tampons. She asked what they were. I tried to explain (cue basic arabic and a fairly graphic mime). No. She shook her head and called her supervisor. The supervisor turned up, opened all them all, snapped them in half and then gave them back to me. Uh, thanks, I kind of needed those. Needless to say they went in the bin.

4. Narrowly escaping serious sexual assault on board a bus to Van Golu.

5. Being chased by men on scooters near my pansion in Tripoli, Lebanon.

See, none of those experiences were exactly great but they have never deterred me from returning to work in this part of the world because the good far outweighs any bad experiences perpetrated by a few ignorant individuals. I have worn many elements of Islamic dress and have an extensive collection of head scarves. There is more beyond the veil than many might expect.

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Reading Progress

06/18/2011 page 50
18.0% "So far a fairly even handed assessment of Islams treatment of women. A sneak peak behind the burkha/chador/ hijab/ mendeel"
02/12/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-38 of 38) (38 new)

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message 1: by mark (new)

mark monday this is a wonderful and fascinating review! i wish i had a 'save review' option so i could check back on this in the future.


Shovelmonkey1 mark wrote: "this is a wonderful and fascinating review! i wish i had a 'save review' option so i could check back on this in the future."

Thanks - its a subject close to my heart. This is a book worth reading no matter what your gender or standpoint on certain religious views although as I said above it should not be the only thing people ever read about Islam as its not entirely even handed in it perspective all the way through.


message 3: by Tim (new) - added it

Tim Thanks for this review and for adding your own positive and negative experiences. It sounds like you could write your own book!


Shovelmonkey1 Tim wrote: "Thanks for this review and for adding your own positive and negative experiences. It sounds like you could write your own book!"
Afternoon Tim thanks for liking my review and for your comment, this is a good book which I think you would enjoy, its currently doing the rounds on bookcrossing.com as a bookray. If you're a member you could sign up to receive it


Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly Let me confess: only after reading this review did i realize that you're...a girl. All along, I thought you're a guy! Maybe because of your avatar and name/handle. Forgive me, ha, ha!


Shovelmonkey1 hey joselito its OK you're not the only one who thought that! That shadowy blue monkey has proven to be a cunning internet disguise!


message 7: by Petra Eggs (new)

Petra Eggs I have never been assaulted, groped, ignored (no greeting, no response to mine) as much as I was in Turkey, even though I was with my boyfriend and holding hands in the crowds of the shuk in Istanbul. I didn't go to the tourist side of Turkey, but from Istanbul to the Black Sea and all little towns in between. Other travels in the Middle East I didn't find so bad, except perhaps Manger Square in Bethlehem (not by the pilgrims!)


Shovelmonkey1 Ah the Black Sea, amazing scenery - I had a great time there. I liked Sinop and Ordu a lot, not sure about some of the larger more grimy industrial cities though.


message 9: by Fay (new) - added it

Fay "NB many local gents drinking tea in the vicinity applauded - apparently avenging honour is not just a male perogative" LOVED that, it's so true. Loved your whole review...going to be following you now. :)


Shovelmonkey1 Thanks hope I can provide other reviews which you'll enjoy!


message 11: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus Really, really fascinating. I liked your review more than, I suspect, I'd like the book.


Shovelmonkey1 thanks probably more biographical rambling than is technically good for a review but not something I'm capable of writing about without the interference of personal opinion and experience.


message 13: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus I'm of the mind that a good, helpful review contains both an assessment of the book and a bit about why the reviewer bothered to review it. I suspect that, absent your Middle Eastern experiences, this title would've slithered right past you unnoticed, as it would have me absent your review.

My review of Good-Bye, Mr. Chips would probably irritate you, if you think biography is not too good for reviews.


message 14: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "thanks probably more biographical rambling than is technically good for a review but not something I'm capable of writing about without the interference of personal opinion and experience."

I disagree: a review is a person's impression of a book, and an impression is covered by one's history. Reading about your experiences in Islamic countries was fascinating. Thank you for taking the time to write about them.

Can I be jealous? You've been to so many places that I want to visit! I don't know what your work is, but it seems to have taken you to some marvelous places.


Shovelmonkey1 I'm an archaeologist. If you want to know more it's on my profile in the about me section but its much less Glam than I let on here; )


message 16: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Very cool. Archaeologist is one of those professions that I rank high in the "glam" category. Things ancient and dead and nearly-forgotten stroke my brain.


Shovelmonkey1 It was voted one of the top ten sexiest professions. presumably not by the people actually in the profession either! It does have its moments though. Finding a skull with a brain preserved inside it (even though the person had been dead for a good 250 years) was a personal highlight just for the random factor... "went to work, found a brain, ho hum".


message 18: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "It was voted one of the top ten sexiest professions. presumably not by the people actually in the profession either! It does have its moments though. Finding a skull with a brain preserved inside i..."

Was it abi-normal?


Shovelmonkey1 are you punning or is that a typo? I don't get it? Sorry maybe I'm being extra dense cos it's a Friday and I've used my weekly quotient of smarts.


message 20: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Sorry, I couldn't help but quote Young Frankenstein after you mentioned a preserved brain--which, by the way, is fantastic. What did you and yours do with the brain?

Happy Friday from one knackered soul to another.


Shovelmonkey1 Ah OK not seen/ read that. We kept it in a fridge till the whole skeleton could be reburied.


message 22: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "Ah OK not seen/ read that. We kept it in a fridge till the whole skeleton could be reburied."

I am an actual man, so I suppose this comment will get me into a world of hurt: Why do you rebury the skeletons? Do you not keep the brain for study? If not, why not?

I am anti-Judeo-Christian-Muslim, and find the whole "spirits of our dead ancestors" nonsense to be insupportable, so I go with, why should science suffer for superstition?

Others don't believe as I do, sure yeah fine, but they need to suck it up and deal with reality not their little fantasy world, still less impose it on the rest of us who *aren't* deficient in the brain department.

Oh my heck. I see I've gone all Jacobin. *sits down quietly*


message 23: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth mark wrote: "this is a wonderful and fascinating review! i wish i had a 'save review' option so i could check back on this in the future."

Mark- such a good idea! I have often wanted a "save review" option here on goodreads.


Shovelmonkey1 Richard wrote: "Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "Ah OK not seen/ read that. We kept it in a fridge till the whole skeleton could be reburied."

I am an actual man, so I suppose this comment will get me into a world of hurt: ..."


Organic material from this period, or more specifically from this site would not have been useful as there were no specific research questions it could have been used to address. Reburial for exhumation from within known cemeteries is very common and tends to be specified from the outset of work because long term storage of human remains can be logistically difficult and is generally unnecessary when it is not a research project.


message 25: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus Oooh.

No questions to be answered makes sense. I suppose it's a good thing not everyone and not every culture uses cremation, even though it's the cleanest, least wasteful solution to body disposal.


message 26: by Nandakishore (new) - added it

Nandakishore Varma Nice to see a balanced viewpoint. Fine review.


message 27: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie I, too, thought you were a man. Combo avatar and the archeologist part is probably throwing people.....sexist as that is. Loved the review.....you have such a cool life. I work in a resort an hour and a half from Dearborn MI, where the largest population of people from the middle east reside here in the U.S. I have come in contact with many people from that area of the world, in can get interesting. I am constantly surprised on the treatment some of the women get.


Jennie -  Webbweaver Reviews I too have lived and worked in a couple of different Mid-East countries and I was never once harrassed in any way. I caught the bus home at 11:00 at night. I was always treated with respect. It depends if you know what areas to avoid - just like in the west.
By the way, harrassement of women happpems regularly in the west.


Shovelmonkey1 Jennie wrote: "I too have lived and worked in a couple of different Mid-East countries and I was never once harrassed in any way. I caught the bus home at 11:00 at night. I was always treated with respect. It dep..."

Very true, harrassment does happen everywhere. At the work place, in the home and out on the streets. I wasn't implying that it was a problem solely prevalent in the middle east, mainly making a point about varying attitudes to women which I have encountered in the middle east which is also the topic of the book. Where did you live?


Jennie -  Webbweaver Reviews Hi Shovelmonkey1, I was in Egypt and the Emirates. I didn't think you personally were implying anything about harassment , I just wanted to make that point .


Shovelmonkey1 No, that's ok, totally understood. Where in Egypt? I really loved Alexandria - amazing place. What were you doing over there - sorry for being nosey you don't have to answer if you don't want to!


Jennie -  Webbweaver Reviews I was mostly in Cairo assisting a travel company. What type of work were you doing?


Shovelmonkey1 Sounds great. I read your profile and saw your impressive language resume! I'm an archaeologist. I was teaching for American university and digging.


message 34: by Jennie - Webbweaver Reviews (last edited Nov 14, 2012 02:25PM) (new)

Jennie -  Webbweaver Reviews Wow! Ive got a friend archaeologist and it's just incredible! I actually have a sub major in ancient history from the university so history is something I'm very interested in. Did you do any work on the relics found in the sea near Alexandria? The ones from the ancient Greek library ? Fascinating!!


message 35: by Sami (new)

Sami As a Muslim woman who's been covered in the West for most of my adult life, I just want to applaud you on your open mindedness when approaching the subject. You obviously know more about Islam, women and the veil than many Muslims, let alone Non Muslims, and I am glad people like you exist :).


message 36: by Sami (new)

Sami An extra thought: I'm sorry they thought being 'as good as a man' was a very high compliment. It's more culture than Islam, I think, because in small Indian villages it is the same. But in my household it most certainly is not :D


Shovelmonkey1 Hi sami thanks for your comments and the compliment. Islamic art, philosophy and medicine are part of a great cultural legacy and i love the fact that i had opportunities to work and live there.


message 38: by Debbie (new) - added it

Debbie Lived reading your review and think it's time for you to write a book! Lived in the Emirates for five years and loved my time there!


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