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YEMEN: A Land Without Jasmine > As You Read - What are you thinking about A Land Without Jasmine?

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message 1: by Cait (new)

Cait | 147 comments Mod
I just got the book in the mail yesterday, and haven't started yet, but my first thought is that this book is so short! It's going to be a quick read for sure.

message 2: by Claire (new)

Claire | 91 comments I haven't started yet but I'm curious how everyone is acquiring their copies. This is the first book I've had to read that I couldn't find in all of the New York Public Library system! It also wasn't at my local book store. I ended up purchasing the ebook version for my Kindle.

message 3: by Becki (new)

Becki Iverson | 75 comments I had to buy on Amazon, I also couldn't find this ANYWHERE. I don't normally buy things so we'll see how I like it (maybe I'll donate it to HCLIB?). And Cait I had the same thought, I will definitely be flying through this one! I'm swamped at work right now so actually looking forward to that :)

Also as an aside - not sure if you are Anthony Bourdain fans, but he did an episode on Oman from his recent season that is BEAUTIFUL. I highly recommend it if you're interested, it really gives a fascinating look into the history of that area!

message 4: by Cait (new)

Cait | 147 comments Mod
Yeah I also had to get mine from some third party seller on Amazon (Book Depository US? I dunno, they sent along an adorable cupcake bookmark so they're ok in my book :) ) At least it wasn't a spendy one... and like you said, Becki, if I don't like it I can always donate it to the library!

message 5: by Claire (new)

Claire | 91 comments Given that none of the libraries seem to have it, I'm sure many people will appreciate a donation! (Unfortunately I didn't think of that when I purchased the Kindle edition...)

Becki thanks for the tip on Anthony Bourdain, I'll check that episode out. I do enjoy watching his shows, since I love food and travel. :)

message 6: by Claire (new)

Claire | 91 comments I read this in pretty much one sitting yesterday (like you both say, very short!). I'll return to write my full thoughts once the discussion starts, but I'll say now that I initially had a somewhat negative impression after reading the first chapter. What stood out to me was something several of the reviews pointed out: it seemed overgeneralizing and possible fuel for the negative stereotypes about Arabs that are pervasive here. (I imagine that it was not written for a Western audience in mind.)

This got much better after the first chapter, and I liked it a lot more by the end. Of course, throughout it was a very difficult read. I'm not sure who thought "sexy" and "satirical" are good descriptions of sexual harassment, stalking, violence, etc.

message 7: by Claire (new)

Claire | 91 comments Also: I spent a lot of time going back and forth trying to decide whether I liked this book. But after finishing, it has really stuck in my head and I've been liking it more and more with time. That's pretty unusual for me, and the sign of a captivating writer. I'm curious now about his book Mountain Boats which led to his exile from Yemen -- too bad it isn't translated into English as far as I can tell! (Time to learn arabic? lol)

A few initial thoughts:
* As I mentioned above, I struggled with how this book could be used as fuel for anti-Muslim stereotypes
* In a country where a high percentage of men and especially women are illiterate, and many women are married off at a young age, Jasmine is actually a pretty privileged and lucky woman who has the chance to attend university. I imagine much of the discussion about women's rights in Yemen focuses on the more basic issues, but it is also important to remember the kinds of higher level issues that are similar (although worse in degree) to the kinds of issues we have in the US (e.g. an intelligent woman failing school because she avoids her professor's advances).
* I think one reason this really stuck with me is because I thought of the parallels of working in a male-dominated field with a sexually repressed "geek" culture (e.g. physics). Not to imply any false equivalences of course, since we're all really lucky to live in a country where there is no question about women attending college and living their lives as they see fit. But the root of the issue may be similar.
* The tribalism really stood out to me (e.g. fate of Ali) as well as the fact that the police really didn't have any power, since they couldn't go against certain people. (Again a parallel with physics -- sexual harassment investigations at universities here which on paper sound like they're doing something but really are powerless b/c they're afraid of doing anything that would get the school sued.)
* I liked how he returned to give the point of view of some of the men causing problems for Jasmine, especially Ali. Ali is a good example of someone who was definitely doing something wrong (stalking Jasmine) but at the same time you can really understand where he's coming from and his humanity (not that that justifies it, of course). Ultimately you are very sad to find out his fate. We learn there is a spectrum of offenders, from people like Ali who are mainly misled, to extremely serious offenders like the professor who targets students for favors.
* Is Jasmine a metaphor for the land and the war in Yemen (fan of the moon and Yemeni antiquity/archaeology, divided among various suitors until she disappears)? What does the ending mean?

I'm sure I'll have a lot more to say, but that's a start.

message 8: by Cait (new)

Cait | 147 comments Mod
I just started reading this today because I reeeeaally want to talk with you about all the things you've mentioned so far. Including what you said about repressed nerd culture, because I'd only read the first couple pages directly after I got it and that was in my mind.

message 9: by Becki (new)

Becki Iverson | 75 comments Me too, I'm behind - awesome insights Claire! Can't wait to get through it.

message 10: by Claire (new)

Claire | 91 comments Great! I'm really looking forward to hearing what you both think about it. :)

message 11: by Claire (last edited Jul 13, 2017 07:55AM) (new)

Claire | 91 comments One other thing I want to comment on (sorry, can't help myself!) is the significance of this book being written by a man. On the one hand, I would still like to read accounts from Yemeni women themselves about struggles they have experienced. But I also was impressed by how well al-Ahdal told this story without having direct experiences of being a woman (even noticing subtle things like the way some bus drivers make a point to touch women's hands as they give them their ticket). I also thought he was able to give a very interesting glimpse into the mind of some of the men, like Ali. And of course, al-Ahdal is himself a counterexample to the stereotypes; clearly there are some men in this society who are paying attention and are outraged about the treatment of women.

message 12: by Cait (new)

Cait | 147 comments Mod
I am also confused about this book! I didn’t even include a rating because I don’t know how I felt. It *definitely* is good discussion fodder though (especially considering it’s less than 100 pages), so a good choice for our club.

-Regarding what you said about whoever thought ‘sexy’ and ‘satirical’ was a good description: YES. Who. Thought. This. Was. Sexy. Literally *nothing* sexy ever happens, it is a woman’s horror story from start to finish. Even the one part where Jasmine is describing a supposedly positive sexual dream reads like a gang rape! (Side note: I agree that it’s impressive a man wrote this, and he clearly has been listening to women to note some of the details, as you pointed out …But I also found it pretty obvious that a man wrote it throughout. Especially towards the end, when Jasmine is supposed to be experiencing immense pleasure and it felt like ‘every man on earth was penetrating her,’ or whatever the actual quote is… yikes.)

-About the potential for negative stereotypes – yeah, I can definitely see that concern. I agree with you that it’s probably not written with a Western audience in mind (I mean, given that this is his only English translated work, I would bet on it), but I don’t think it *should* be written with a western audience in mind either. It’s like what Toni Morrison said/says about the white gaze. Basically, there’s a lot of pressure to write to that gaze – can a black person write what they want to write if it might feed into a perceived stereotype on ‘black-on-black-crime’ or some other harmful stereotype? And the answer is yes, of course! White people can and do get a lot out of Beloved and Morrison’s other works, but she doesn’t care. It’s not for us. Same here. Yemen writers and Muslim writers should be able to write the stories they need to tell, critique the things they need to critique, and we’ll just sit back here listening and learning and not using it as ammunition because you shouldn’t complain about someone’s cleaning when your own house is a mess.

Also – what do westerners really have to brag about? Yes, having the law technically on our side is not a small thing, but part of why this book was so hard for me to read is because everything terrible thing being said was something that we all see & hear ALL THE TIME. Online, in the office, in our high schools and just everywhere. It’s often not so explicit, but while I think that it is better to not share your thoughts if they’re misogynistic trash, it’s problematic enough to have the thoughts in the first place.

-Speaking of gazes – I found this book hard to read. Not because of writing (and obviously not because of length), but just because the male gaze was SO HEAVY. Not a page went by – heck, not a paragraph went by – without being under that gaze. That was the point, but it was oppressive and stressful to read nonetheless. I just went to a reading and Q&A with Minnesota poet Bao Phi this week, and one of the questions that he was asked was about a poet’s, or any artist’s responsibility / response to trauma. And Phi said (something like) artists find beauty in ugly things, because retelling trauma in a bulleted list is retraumatizing – both to the artist, and the reader. One role for artists may be to retell trauma in a way that can be absorbed and processed and shared without just replaying that trauma. He was pretty ‘I don’t know if that’s the answer’ because obviously there’s a million roles for an artist, and when we say to find beauty in ugly things, we don’t mean that things should be covered up, painted over, or falsified. Anyway, this was a SUPER long tangent, but basically it was on the top of my mind (as I finished the book the day after) and I don’t know if this book went through that alchemy of transformation, or was just a retelling of trauma.

I have many more thoughts and responses, but this is already a long post so I’ll stop for now :)

message 13: by Claire (new)

Claire | 91 comments Good point about avoiding pressure to write *for* a Western audience. And yeah, I agree, the fantasy at the end is definitely obviously written by a man not a women. Also the first chapter, while attentive to detail, reads differently than the ones written from a male point of view (which are more nuanced). I guess I'm just so used to certain types of men questioning basic things like the seriousness of sexual harassment, that I have lower standards and am impressed simply by someone who empathizes and notices the patterns!

I have to think a bit more about what you say about trauma. Clearly, this book should have one big giant *trigger warning* written all over it (which is not helped by that misleading description of "sexy" and "satirical").

message 14: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia Bull | 16 comments So - loved reading y'all's responses about the violence against women (and men, notably Ali) and about how this reads to Westerners and our responsibility as Western readers not to mark this in the "See, Muslims are terrible and hate women" stereotype column because, as Cait so clearly pointed out, it's not "for us".

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the snack bar guy. He was so interesting to me in that he seems to have a real awareness of the heaviness of that male gaze that Jasmine so clearly articulates in her chapter yet also participates in that himself (and to some extent acknowledges that he does). He also has this really interesting anti-intellectual streak, identifying the university culture as poisonous and damaging to actually intelligent/brilliant people (what a horrible story about Waddah!). Nasir seems to be such an intelligent and perceptive person himself, and he lives at least adjacent to this academic world but also remains separate and denigrates it. And what do you make of his chapter title "A Man Blinded to this Disconcerting World by Supernatural Delusions"?

message 15: by Cait (new)

Cait | 147 comments Mod
Yes, the snack guy! I was also was interested in that. He started off as kind of a comforting part of the book, as I imagined Jasmine felt about him, and then we find that every man participates in the male gaze (except the detective, perhaps? I wonder if that's kind of how the author saw himself).

I wish I had my book with me, so I could look at the chapter titles again. Do you think that perhaps Nasir, in a sense, ends up the most blinded of them all? He's the one who sees the world the clearest, arguably, and he's the one who is there and watching when Jasmine disappears, but he can't see beyond his expectations of the world.

message 16: by Claire (last edited Jul 15, 2017 05:52PM) (new)

Claire | 91 comments I thought the snack bar guy (Nasir) was another interesting example of a more complicated offender, who has some redeeming aspects but at the same time participates in the oppression (and knows all about the horrible things done by Dr. Aqlan, and the systemic issues with the school, but decides to be more of a bystander). Also in some sense he is the biggest "watcher" of all, although not the most serious offender. I actually wondered to what extent the author identifies with him, since he (like the author) seems to be an astute male observer who is aware of a lot of the issues including the harassment. As far as the title goes, not completely sure. Seems like Nasir is quite aware of the issues in the world he watches. He does see the vision of the jinn talking to Jasmine, and I assume that's what is meant by Supernatural Delusions. Perhaps it means that the rape actually occurred but is covered up by this mystical projection of Jasmine speaking to the jinn and disappearing into the book (which he saw from his snack bar)? If so, what is the significance of the author choosing someone so otherwise obviously aware and vigilant to be the one who is "blinded"?

Cait, I'm glad you mentioned how the detective does *not* seem to participate in the male gaze. What is the significance of that? In some sense he's being neutral, behaving like a proper policeman, although in the end he really has no power compared to the tribes. Those who are implicated in the societal issues (enacting violence against Ali as well as presumably harassment against women) are the ones who actually enact the justice. Perhaps he is meant as an ideal to be juxtaposed with the reality?

message 17: by Cait (new)

Cait | 147 comments Mod
I don't know Nasir seeing the jinn makes him more blinded than anyone else. Multiple other characters saw the jinn as well, although not so clearly and I don't think they say him at he instant of the disappearance.

Like I said, he does miss her actual disappearance, even though he is watching it, but I think that is because he's refusing to accept the magic because it doesn't fit into his world view. Whereas Ali does accept it, even though he didn't see it, and he is rewarded with Jasmine's bag and later her clothes.

Regarding the policeman... I initially thought it might be a case of the author kind of putting himself in the detective's shoes, as he is as much of an ally as Jasmine really has throughout, and a good guy (and I do think this story is a form of allyship as well as a societal critique for the author). It might also be a way to outline how ineffective the state is, as you said. It's frustrating to see deep problems and have no power to fix them, and the detective is definitely feeling that.

message 18: by Claire (new)

Claire | 91 comments That's a good point Cait that he might be blinded by his lack of ability to accept the magic (rather than by seeing the jinn). I hadn't thought about it that way, but you're right that others (like Ali) see the jinn too and are more open to its magical origin. :)

message 19: by Becki (new)

Becki Iverson | 75 comments Ok so I *finally* finished this and it's so interesting to go back and read all your thoughts now because I actually really liked this book! There is a lot of heavy male gaze but it read to me as a critique of that gaze - Jasmine is the point of the story and I interpreted her disappearance (once we hear the jinn's theory) as one of willing herself out of the world essentially with the help of the jinn to try to free herself from her oppression. Therefore, the rest of the chapters are demonstrating why she was so willing to leave that world and explain how thoroughly surrounded she was in every way. It did read to me as kind of a sexy who-done-it in the vein of a kind of a literary film noir. Film noir can also skew very traditionally masculine, but also tends to feature strong/multifaceted/sexy women, and this felt to me like a mashup of film noir and magical realism kind of like a Big Sleep mixed with Pan's Labrynth or 100 Years of Solitude.

At the end of the day this read to me like the women were the heroes and the men's stories were how the author was trying to get his likely audience to engage with their perspective. Also, it read to me like he was trying to point out the flaws of the men by being in their head themselves - the entire book is revealing all of the ulterior motives men have and how rare it is for them to be well intentioned. Which may sound harsh, but I think in that brutal honesty it really hits on something about traditional masculinity that transcends cultures and affects all of us - who among us have never been catcalled or felt a little skeezed out while trying to just walk down a street? (especially by dudes who are offended that you don't want to receive their "compliments") - and rather than turn me off, it really felt refreshing to me to see a man write men with this perspective in mind. He doesn't make anyone a hero or whitewash their sins, they're out there in all their glory for all the world to see.

message 20: by Claire (new)

Claire | 91 comments That's interesting you had such a different reaction to the book. Thanks for sharing!

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