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

Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks
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's review
Apr 06, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: book-club

Very interesting non-fiction book written by an author I knew for her excellent fiction. I had no idea that Geraldine Brooks started her career as a journalist. She talked extensively to women from many walks of life, although more wealthy than not, in many different Islamic countries. Some of these countries are very strict and fundamentalist, such as Saudi Arabia; others are more liberal, such as Egypt. The book was written many years ago. Many countries have become more fundamentalist since this was written, so I imagine much of what she writes is still true today.

I thought the book would talk a lot about the pleasures, happiness and satisfaction these women have even though we can't understand it as Westerners. Instead, the tone was much more grim than I expected. Although the author never really deviates from her Western outlook, the way she documented and commented on things made me think that the West should be speaking out more on many of these practices towards women, especially those that are not rooted in the Koran or Islam. We try to be culturally sensitive, but one point she made at the end of the book really struck me. She states that at this point in our history we would probably impose sanctions on a country that was half white and half black if the country did not allow the blacks to leave home, get custody of kids, have fair trials, drive, etc. Well, this is exactly what Saudi Arabia is doing to the half of the population that is female, yet this hardly elicits a whimper from us.
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Andrea Lee Susan, I bumped into T at the bank the other day - it was her copy I read. I love Brooks' historical fiction work, this one I disliked. This book rubbed me the wrong way a lot of the time I was reading it. It felt amateurish and personal, more like a travel-log, but not presented as such. I felt that the work was really biased. I completely agree that there is something despicable (to me) about the way women are treated in many countries - African, South American, Middle Eastern, Asian, oh - and American. One point that she made in a sort of quiet way was that many women in Arab nations have tremendous power IF they know how to wield it. Some women there do very well. They live with the same restrictions, but have really happy lives, fulfill their own expectations, set and achieve goals. It's very hard to understand whether they are happy by our own standards or not, or whether that applies.

In the end, I felt that Brooks did a mediocre job of presenting a real-life account of living behind the veil, and there are some wonderful books out there that do that. Her own approach is much more academic, but she neglects objectivity, which really reduces the quality of the tale. Still, I love her historical fiction lol!

Susan Yes, I too felt the book was biased, always looking for the negative. But, I thought, maybe that was my own bias towards cultural relativity peeking through!

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