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In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  6,041 Ratings  ·  815 Reviews
"In this stunningly written book, a Western trained Muslim doctor brings alive what it means for a woman to live in the Saudi Kingdom. I've rarely experienced so vividly the shunning and shaming, racism and anti-Semitism, but the surprise is how Dr. Ahmed also finds tenderness at the tattered edges of extremism, and a life-changing pilgrimage back to her Muslim faith." - G ...more
Paperback, 454 pages
Published September 1st 2008 by Sourcebooks
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Linda Arteman I'm not sure what you want to know. I live in the U.S.A., and women have the same rights and freedoms as men. We can wear whatever we want, go…moreI'm not sure what you want to know. I live in the U.S.A., and women have the same rights and freedoms as men. We can wear whatever we want, go whatever we want to go, go to whatever college or university we choose, and choose our career. All without a man's permission.

These things may cost a lot of money, so most husbands and wives both have jobs in order to afford to live comfortably. Many moms can't stay home with the children even if they want to, because it often takes two incomes to live.

I can't imagine needing to have a man to give me permission to travel, or having to cover my whole body and hair to go out in public. I enjoy my freedom, but am willing to give my husband the final word on major decisions. However, every couple has to decide how to handle major decisions within their own marriage.

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Community Reviews

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Rating details
Sort: Default
Oct 07, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
If I could assign negative starts to this book, I would.

Do you know someone who loved this book? Did they recommend you read it ASAP? Let me ask you something about that person. Is he/she a good story teller or do they tend to prattle on and on?

Ahmed's writing is repetitious and overly descriptive about EVERYTHING. I'm not sure what her editor was thinking letting the book go to print in it's current condition. In my opinion, if the editor had done their job, the book would be at least half of
Amy Raby
Mar 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
So here's the thing. This book is getting a lot of negative reviews because of the quality of the writing. And it's true, the writing has problems (e.g., the word "belie" means the opposite of what the author thinks it does, and I'm amazed this wasn't caught by a copyeditor, along with numerous other issues). But if you can get past that and read for the content, this book is absolutely worth reading, especially if you are interested in what the lives of women are like in places other than the W ...more
Nov 11, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Terence by: New Shelf at library
Shelves: biography
Qanta Ahmed, a doctor and Muslim of Pakistani descent, is a British citizen who was practicing in NY when her visa renewal was denied. Practically on a whim, she decides to accept an offer to spend 2 years at a Saudi Arabian hospital. This book is a memoir of her time there. On the positive side, any glimpse of a culture so alien to most Western eyes is welcome (even one as unreflective and blinkered as this proves to be).

Unfortunately, the author can't write and her editors were slacking off an
Dec 26, 2008 rated it it was ok
OK, I only awarded this book two stars, for the sole reason that it is not terribly well-written. But it has some definite redeeming factors that should compel you to at least skim through it if you have the chance. The subject matter, suppression of women in Saudi Arabia, is one that intrigues and infuriates me no end, and Dr Ahmed has done a good job in conveying the psychology of living under such conditions. It does do strange things to the mind when your every move is scrutinized, when you ...more
Aug 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
You'd think that after working for 13 years in an intensive English program where 30% of the students are Saudi that I'd know more about Saudis than I do. The truth is that they're still mysteries to me in many ways. This book was quite an eye-opener for me because it set apart some of the concepts that are culturally Saudi versus being inherent to Islam. I've read other books such as Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women which were written by non-Muslims who visited Saudi Arab ...more
Feb 13, 2016 rated it did not like it
I can't bear to read another page of this. I don't think I've written a negative review before but Lord! This author is nothing short of vexatious. For starters, the writing is terrible. She over-explains mundane things (which is why this book is 454 pages when it could have been summarized in around 200 pages). From the very beginning, she begins to compare everything to New York and is very disappointed by almost everything that isn't Western or familiar. Then she rants about the Islamic veil ...more

Description: For two years, Qanta Ahmed worked in one of the world's most modern hospitals in Saudi Arabia. In 'A Stranger in the Kingdom', she recalls her experiences of being a woman in a fundamentalist Islamic state.

Opening: SEEKING RESPITE FROM THE INTENSITY of medicine, I trained my eye on the world without. Already, the midmorning heat rippled with fury, as sprinklers scattered wet jewels onto sunburned grass. Fluttering petals waved in the Shamaal wind, strongest this time of day

Some aspe
Sep 09, 2014 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one who values their time
Dear Dr. Qanta Ahmed: Please stick to medicine.
Dear Hillel Black (so called "editor"): Did you even read it?
Dear Sourcebooks (publisher): I've never heard of you. Now I know why.

This book was just so poorly written that I decided by the end of page 145 (yes, I made it that far) that it just wouldn't be worth my time to continue reading it. If I had to choose one color to describe this book, it would be purple, as in PURPLE PROSE EVERYWHERE. Here is the first paragraph from Chapter 2 (which real
Aug 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Dr. Ahmed writes a compelling memoir based upon her two years as a resident physician in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She writes from a western woman's point of view, as well as from a Muslim woman's point of view, and interjects her observations about the internal conflicts that exist among both Saudi men and women. Dr. Ahmed comments on her personal journey to Mecca and the heart of Islam, as well as the difficulties the educated elite face as they hurdle towards the future with hopes of uplifting th ...more
May 11, 2009 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: people who are curious but healthily skeptical
Recommended to Beth by: an American woman who lived in KSA
Unfortunately this book reads like a dragged-out Readers Digest piece. It's largely made up of reconstructed conversations with Saudis during which they "tell" her simplistically how things work in the Kingdom ("You see, Qanta, here in Saudi Arabia we...." [etc:]). But she'll present these various cultural situations without fully contextualizing them; though to be fair, having been there for only a couple of years in a highly specialized environment, she may not have had the opportunity to gras ...more
Elizabeth Desole
Feb 08, 2013 rated it liked it
I found this to be a very frustrating book. Either the author is conflating circumstances to create a "good" story or she is the most willfully uninformed person.
I can't understand how a well-educated woman could sign on to living in Saudi Arabia for 2 years and show up with no covering. How incredibly ignorant. She came from New York so she doesn't have the excuse of lack of access to proper attire. I could walk from my house in Brooklyn and get an abbaya!
She (supposedly) at the last minute de
Interesting and somewhat, sometimes, less than compelling read. It is really 2.5 stars. I'm not sorry I read it, but Dr. Ahmed's editors really let her down. I mean it. The writing is at times cringe worthy. Honestly, sometimes rain is just simply rain.

I did learn some things, and the look into a distant culture was intersting. At times, however, the book felt like a lecture. Apparently, everyone lectured Dr. Ahmed about everything. (Something I find hard to believe). I think a book like this is
Apr 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful and very disturbing book. The author is a Moslem of Pakistani descent who was born in London and grew up in a very assimilated family. She became a physician and moved to the US for additional training. Then, not knowing what to do with her life, she decided to spend a couple of years in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She thought that because she was Muslim, it would not be a problem to adapt, but she was totally unprepared for Saudi mores. I highly recommend this book for understandi ...more
Sep 07, 2009 rated it did not like it
Memoir of 2-years in Saudi Arabia by female doctor. A few interesting incidents stretched into a too-long book by bad writing. Might have made a passable book of 100-pages if tightly written.
Aug 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The author of this book is British, of Pakistani origin, and is a devout Moslem. Thus she is the ideal person to write impartially about the role and status of women in the Saudi Kingdom, a subject which has interested me tremendously since the first time I spent more than a few months in a place where Islam was the main religion. While the book appealed to many of my prejudices about places that deny women basic civil rights and demand that they veil themselves in public, I more interested in t ...more
Nov 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The author has done her readers of all faiths and nationalities a service by writing this memoir of her time in the Kingdon of Saudi Arabia as an ICU doctor. While her position, shielded by the royal family, afforded her great privilidge, it also allowed her to better understand her own Islamic beliefs.

One of the really interesting aspects of this story is seeing that for Ahmed, part of the trip to Saudi Arabia is a homecoming, a chance to experience a culture smiilar in religious beliefs to tho
Jan 18, 2012 rated it liked it
If Goodreads so allowed, this book would get 3.5 stars. It's interesting and enjoyable but certainly the product of a first time author. Her recollections at times felt quite vague and at others filled with details with no rhyme or reason to why in each section. She would talk about something urgently coming up and being a big deal (Ramadan) and then the next chapter Ramadan was already over, with nothing about it. She also has a habit of introducing characters, telling a story about them and th ...more
Nov 20, 2010 rated it liked it
A coworker of mine loaned me this book so that I could learn more about Saudi culture since the majority of our students are Saudi. I did learn a lot about Saudi culture, and it made me want to learn more, which I think is always a compliment to a book. However, this book had a lot of issues that warranted it 3 stars when it had the easy premise to be an outstanding and conversation-provoking book.

Ahmed has the unique perspective of being a British Muslim of Pakistani parents who completed her m
Jun 04, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommended to Lisa by: Eve
3.80 stars

I enjoyed this. I will say that it was far from perfect, but I'll read absolutely anything that takes me into the world of Saudi women, or women anywhere in the east, for that matter. I thought this book would be primarily about Qanta's experience in Saudi Arabia as a woman and female doctor, as well as a really in-depth look into what life was like for women there. And it was kind of that. But about a quarter of the way in, Qanta decides to go on Hajj (the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca).
Feb 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book overall was extremely deals with the plight of women in The Kingdom (Saudi Arabia). It follows the journey of a British Muslim women educated in Britian and the US as a doctor. She goes to the Kingdom on a 3 year contract as an ER doctor. I felt that at first she was being honest and than as the book progressed she became reticent and even understanding of how women are treated! She is a highly educated intelligent women and yet she could not even drive a car or even ...more
Feb 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I'll grant that the writing style is very stilted and I could hear the good doctor in my ear as I read. An editor might have tightened up the text but would have eliminated the personal style of Dr Ahmed's voice. I had a frind who spent several year in Saudi Arabia so I was eager to read this.

The stifling treatment of women, the religious police patrolling for errors in dress or behavior, the gap between men and women, all described as would be expected. What I didn't expect is the religious epi
Jun 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
This author brings a lot of passion to her book, a memoir of two years of her life spent working as a physician in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Maybe a little too much passion. Her writing style is too florid for me, her vocabulary a bit far-fetched; I had the sense she was writing with a thesaurus at hand. She often seemed to get carried away with her descriptions of characters, to the point I had trouble believing the people she met could really be THAT beautiful, THAT magnificent, THAT talent ...more
Apr 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting book about a western educated muslim doctor's 2 years in Saudi Arabia. Learned a lot about her pure passion for her religion (and the role of Haaj in it) and her clear thinking about the history, future and circumstances in Soudi Arabia. I was perhaps particuarly interested because a family member lived there with her husband for a while. Probably a bit before Qanta was there. So thought provoking.
martha Boyle
Mar 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
I am giving this 4 stars for interest, not for writing. She does repeat herself and every woman she meets is gorgeous and glittering, etc. But to see Saudi Arabia through the eyes of an educated westerner who lived there for two years, is fascinating to me.
Mandy Prasad
Sep 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
This memoir was truly eye-opening for me. Prior to reading this book, I learned a little bit about Islam from a world religions course in my undergraduate studies. But, I had never really spoken with a practicing Muslim about his or her own religious beliefs. When I read the cover of the book, I was excited to take this unique look into Islam, an account written from a practicing woman of the Islamic faith.

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka Mormon), I'm often ske
Feb 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
For many adherents of the Islamic faith, finding acceptance among the Muslims is part of one’s journey. This is especially true for those who accept Islam as their religion and for those who shift from lackadaisical practice to more dedicated adherence. Dr. Ahmed shares with readers her experience of discovering the complexities associated with being a different kind of Muslim woman in a static Islamic context. Saudi Arabia, perhaps best known for producing America’s greatest perceived enemy, is ...more
Aug 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People who want to know more about women in Islam.
Shelves: social-history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Five stars for the topic, which is absolutely fascinating. One star for the writing, which tends toward the dreadful. Dr. Ahmed is a British Muslim woman of Pakistani heritage who is board-certified in internal medicine, pulmonary disease, critical-care medicine, and sleep-disorders medicine. When her US visa ends, she takes a position at a government-run hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Her book focuses on the cultural clashes and differences she encounters while trying to live in the most rep ...more
May 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is an absorbing story well worth your time. Dr. Qanta Ahmed is a British Muslim woman, of Pakistani-born parents, who took her medical training in the US. Her visa expired and wasn't renewed at the end of her trianing, so she took a job at the National Guard Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. As Dr. Ahmed is Muslim, she was interested to practice medicine in Riyadh and immerse herself in her religious background more fully. She discovers the huge gap between her understanding of the true nat ...more
Pallavi Kamat
Nov 18, 2016 rated it liked it
The book gives a fair (I assume) indication of life in Saudi especially for unmarried women like the author. True there are strong, independent women featured in the book but they are still bound by the law of the land.

I was a bit confused when the author mid-book almost supported the veil saying it enhances the beauty of women by restricting it to specific people. Didn't expect that from her.

Also, the description of Hajj covered a few chapters & had nothing to do with Saudi as the book made
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Dr. Qanta Ahmed (MD, FCCP, FAASM) is one of the top multi-disciplined physicians and medical specialists in the country—licensed in both the United States and the United Kingdom. She is an educator, consultant, researcher, guest lecturer at medical universities and sought-after speaker at medical conferences.

Among her many honors, Dr. Ahmed has served as Diplomat of the American Board of Internal
More about Qanta A. Ahmed

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“I remember being thirteen years old, sitting in my room all night, listening to the same song over and over. I thought that if I could write something beautiful, something honest, I could make someone love me.” 7 likes
“I don't think this is a good idea. We all live on one planet so we cannot segregate the genders. If the Holy Mosque in Makkah, which is the holiest place on earth, does not segregate women, then why would the Ministry of Health want to segregate them?”
She also went on to object to the selection of a physician based only on gender and not competence, expressing her disdain as follows: “I prefer doctors who are professional in studying my situation and solving my problem, regardless of whether they are male or female. I cannot imagine a men's hospital without female nurses and doctors, and I also cannot imagine women's hospitals without men playing a role in them.”
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