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Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,484 ratings  ·  218 reviews
Guest House for Young Widows charts the different ways women were recruited, inspired, or compelled to join the militants. Emma from Hamburg, Sharmeena and three high school friends from London, Nour, a religious dropout from Tunis: all found rebellion or community in political Islam and fell prey to sophisticated propaganda that promised them a cosmopolitan adventure and ...more
Hardcover, 362 pages
Published September 10th 2019 by Random House
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Petra-X Off having adventures
Good points: great title and the author writes well. But she writes from the point of view of extreme negativity towards America and Israel. The author loses no opportunity to display her hatred of Israel and exaggerates when it suits her agenda and is likely to gain more sympathy for her subjects.

At the root of it, she says, Muslims are "increasingly aggravated" by what they see as pressure for them to integrate:
Britain's core national identity was enshrined in gender liberalism, women's physic
Diane S ☔
Oct 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 5000-2019
ISIS, Syria. They came from everywhere, Libya, Tunisia, Great Britain Germany, these young women came to join a new group that was supposedly creating a new state, a state where being Muslim was accepted, the true and honest way. Why did they come, traveling so far into an unknown future? For a variety of reasons. Some to follow a loved one, some like the Puritans who left England, came for the right to worship their religion in their own way. Some came from radicalization from social media, som ...more
Jul 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This work is as described: the stories of thirteen women from various countries and backgrounds who become women of ISIS. Their heart-wrenching accounts attest the weight on Muslim feminism and gender conflicts. Each with their own story, this book explains the series of events that attracted them to ISIS. The powerful voices of these women not only expose their decisions that led them to ISIS but also reveal the undeniable reality that their choice to join was not always just black and white, A ...more
Jan 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: terrorism, syria
The strength of this book is the women – the portraits of their lives before, during and after their time with ISIS. Yes, there are “guest houses for widows" but, despite the title, they only get a mention in this book..

The author’s interest was piqued through reports of 4 seemingly typical teen-aged girls who made secret plans and left their East London homes to join ISIS. They are profiled along with other women from England, Germany, and Tunisia who also left home for ISIS and women who live
Apr 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars - The author does a great job of showing how and why these women would choose to leave their families behind and become radicalized

I read this for round 1 of the booktube prize. You can see my full thoughts here:
Donna Davis
Nov 08, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nobody.
Those of us in the United States don’t have much of a window on the women of ISIS, and I thought this title might help me understand them better. In some ways this proves true, but in the end, I couldn’t finish this book and I can’t recommend it. Thanks go to Net Galley and Random House for letting me read it free and early.

Here’s a quote that provides a thesis:

"Many of these women were trying, in a twisted way, to achieve dignity and freedom through an embrace of a politics that ended up viol
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
Oct 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a well-researched and engagingly written look at why young women from many Western countries were persuaded to move to Syria and join ISIS. Like many extremist groups, young and marginalized people were persuaded by propaganda and charismatic leaders. The author tries hard to put herself in the mindset of these young women and is very sympathetic towards them, but this may be the biggest drawback of the book. She seemed to absolve them of their behavior rather then look deeper at indivi ...more
1.5 stars.

A disorganized mess, made even less appealing by leaden, cliched prose. I'm also astonished that this book contains no footnotes or citations of any kind, despite Moaveni quoting large sections of text from newspapers and other published material. Even for popular history, this kind of dismissal of scholarly standards is appalling. I actually feel less informed after reading this slipshod book. Not recommended for anyone.
The content 4 stars.
The book organization 2 stars.

I love reading about uncommon, often hidden voices, which normally you won't hear about. This is one of them. I gained a lot from this book about the motivations of the thirteen women in it. It confirms again that one should not judge before they know the multi-faceted background and complexities of other people's lives. Quite enlightening. Reading about their lived-in experience from going and then living in Syria was also rather eye opening.

Oct 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
A well written easy to read book that tells the stories of 13 different teenagers and women from various countries who left their homes and lives to live in Syria and be part of the caliphate.

While the author clearly sides with these women and definitely views them more as victims of society/government/family/male domination rather than cold blooded terrorists, she does criticize ISIS freely.

Many reading this book will tend to go one way or the other. The first being ' they got what they deserve
Amanda Mae
Jul 11, 2019 rated it liked it
There is some really fascinating and sad stories in this book, but I found the narrative flow a little too muddled. I also got a little confused with who was who at different points, but that may have been the start and stop way I was reading it. There were additional breaks in the narrative to go into further depth of what ISIS was doing at the time, and while others may find that helpful, I mostly skipped over it. What I really appreciated was getting to know these women, what brought them int ...more
Dec 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion, non-fiction
"Before 2013, no one talked much about “radicalization” in Tunisia. They talked about fucking off to Syria to find a job, to build a polity for Islam, to fight Bashar al-Assad, to join a militant group, to rescue a dying child, to ensure a place in heaven, or some combination of all those things. Those choices and motivations were taken at face value; no one imagined that the young people going to Syria didn’t actually feel these things, that there was instead some fuzzy ideological process call ...more
Jun 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Book reviews on

I thought this was a thought-provoking and at times shocking read, about the women from all over the world who, for whatever reason, decide to become a part of ISIS. I think Azadeh writes with humanity and respect for these subjects, showing how they go to the point of abandoning their own lives to become an Islamic State wife, and how some of the political history of the Middle East has influenced their decisions – but of course doesn’t excuse them.

I have see
This book makes the mistake of, on several occasions, veering from "I want you to understand why these women made the choices that they did" to "I want you to sympathize and excuse why these women did what they did".

And when you are writing a book about women who made a choice to join ISIS, an Islamic terrorist group responsible for:

genocide (the Yazidis), disturbingly gruesome executions, bombings of civilian locations (Manchester, for instance), human trafficking (women have been sold into pro
Nov 01, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Currently on the Baillie Gifford Shortlist, this is the story of several women, who travelled to Syria. Some had boyfriends, husbands, or brothers, who had already gone, or who wanted them to accompany, or join, them there. Others thought it would be the ideal place in which to live in a country ruled by Islamic law and to practice their religion the way they wished. Others were naïve, unhappy at home, looking for adventure, enticed or groomed; either on the internet, or in person. All would, fa ...more
Robert Sheard
May 15, 2020 rated it liked it
This book is just too complicated for me. Moaveni has written about the Middle East for twenty years and knows the complexities there quite well, but it's overwhelming for someone like me who has a superficial understanding of the Middle East.

I also think the format of the book (alternating among the women's different stories instead of telling each story from beginning to end separately) makes the experience even more confusing.

As I said on YouTube, this book is too smart for me, and while it
Sep 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sad, sobering, devastating, and eye-opening. If I could give it 10 stars, I would.
Feb 03, 2020 rated it it was ok
This did not suit me. The author, expanding on news stories, seemed to be caught between writing a nonfictional narrative and using fictional techniques so that the whole suffered.
Jun 10, 2020 rated it really liked it

I put off reading this book for a while, but recently I saw the audiobook on my library’s website and decided to give it a download. It’s not an easy listen. The subject matter is divisive and difficult, and there really aren’t any happy endings. There’s a saying that basically goes, there are no winners in war, and I think the conflict in Syria is the perfect illustration in that. No one won. Everyone lost. And, arguably, it is still happening in one form
Scribe Publications
In this searing investigation, Moaveni explores the phenomenon of Muslim women — many of them educated, successful, and outwardly Westernised — choosing to travel to Syria in support of jihad ... In concise, visceral vignettes, Moaveni immerses her readers in a milieu saturated with the romantic appeal of violence. The result is a journalistic tour de force that lays bare the inner lives, motivations, and aspirations of her subjects. STARRED REVIEW
Publishers Weekly

Eloquent, empathetic, insig
Apr 25, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: journalism
An account of 13 women who join ISIS that erases the line between seeking to understand and rationalizing. Quite bizarrely, the author gives families and religious institutions a pass while throwing extreme judgement on teachers, the media and the dreaded secularists. The author has infinite patience and understanding for these girls and women, and no time for anyone who doesn’t show them the same infinite patience.

These are mostly teenagers from immigrant families in Europe, and some in North
Jesse Mechler
Oct 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I cannot put into words what this book will make you feel. Moaveni does an amazing job educating the reader and sharing the women's stories. It's a necessary read in today's political climate. ...more
Sheree | Keeping Up With The Penguins
The wives, widows, and children of ISIS fighters are currently languishing in refugee camps; we’ve all seen the footage on the evening news. That’s what makes Guest House For Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni a particularly timely read, and Scribe was kind enough to send me an early copy for review. In it, a seasoned Middle East reporter explores the questions at the heart of the crisis: what would make a woman leave a cosmopolitan life to become an ISIS bride? Where do we draw the line between vic ...more
Jan 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arab-muslim
Journalist, Azadeh Moaveni, has presented the events from the Arab Spring through to late 2018 and the US involvement with a Kurds in Northern Syria. She tells of these events through the unique perspective of 13 women associated with ISIS.

These were young often-modern women who “converted to Islam in part to secure some meaning in life, in part for a measure of community and support.”

It’s the story of young men & women frustrated by foreign policy, frustrated by the slums they lived in, frustra
Oliver Clarke
Jan 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a compelling and fascinating account of the lives of a number or women who either joined or tried to join ISIS in Syria. It’s surprisingly gripping, often very moving, even-handed and endlessly illuminating. The stories are well chosen, complex political and religious concepts are clearly explained and the writing is almost beautiful at times.
It seems to me that the lure of extremism is one of those subjects that’s both important and rarely taking about. Azadeh Moaveni absolutely does i
Oct 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
This is another WOW book - I gasped, I cried, I had to put the book down for a few moments every once in a while to just let it all sink in. I am reminded of another book I just read (The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper), where simply because of the book's topic, we know that things don't turn out well for these women. And there is a special kind of heartbreak that comes from reading about young girls (with variably bright futures to begin with, to be fair) who we k ...more
Catelyn Silapachai
Sep 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What a fascinating and important book. I couldn't recommend it more. The research is impeccable and clearly draws upon the author's decades of experience as a journalist. ...more
Oct 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is about the unusual plight of women who joined ISIS. The author follows 13 women who were recruited, bullied, motivated, charmed, and mislead into joining the fight to secure an Islamic state in Syria. These girls (often only 15-years-old) were from Tunisia, Syria, Germany, England, and Eastern Asian. Most wanted a more relgious life, freedom from poverty & dysfuction, and a handsome brave husband.

Instead, they were married, widowed, remarried and stuck before their next birthday. On
Jan 19, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2021
In this gripping and thoughtprovoking book, experienced Middle East journalist Azadeh Moaveni recounts the stories of thirteen girls and women from a variety of backgrounds - including several from Germany and the UK as well as various Middle Eastern nations - who chose to join ISIS. Patiently and painstakingly, she lays out their lives, thoughts and decisions, seeking to understand the reasons behind the choices they made. She largely succeeds in withholding judgment and leaving that up to the ...more
Oct 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Azadeh Moaveni’s “Guest House for Young Widows” cements her reputation as one of the leading journalists covering the modern Middle East - with particular emphasis on the female experience.

In this book, she intricately and empathetically reconstructs the paths to ISIS of thirteen young women originating in the Middle East and North Africa, and in diaspora communities in Europe. As she does so, she also charts the evolution of perceptions of the caliphate and its members, both from within, and w
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Azadeh Moaveni is the author of Lipstick Jihad and the co-author, with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, of Iran Awakening. She has covered the Middle East for almost two decades. She covered the Iraq War for the Los Angeles Times, and was a correspondent for Time based in Tehran, reporting on Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and Iran. She is a contributor to The Guardian, The New York Times , ...more

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