Home > Literature, Sociology > In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom

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

  • Author: Qanta Ahmed
  • ISBN 13:  9781402210877
  • Publisher:  Inc., Sourcebooks
  • Published: September, 2008
  • Pages: 464
  • Language: English
  • Format:  PDF, RTF, EPUB, LIT, LRF, MOBI, FB2, PDB
  • Price: $10.19

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.” – Gail Sheehy

The decisions that change your life are often the most impulsive ones.

Unexpectedly denied a visa to remain in the United States, Qanta Ahmed, a young British Muslim doctor, becomes an outcast in motion. On a whim, she accepts an exciting position in Saudi Arabia. This is not just a new job; this is a chance at adventure in an exotic land she thinks she understands, a place she hopes she will belong.

What she discovers is vastly different. The Kingdom is a world apart, a land of unparralled contrast. She finds rejection and scorn in the places she believed would most embrace her, but also humor, honesty, loyalty and love.

And for Qanta, more than anything, it is a land of opportunity. A place where she discovers what it takes for one woman to recreate herself in the land of invisible women. (2008-08-01)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This memoir is a journey into a complex world readers will find fascinating and at times repugnant. After being denied a visa to remain in the U.S., British-born Ahmed, a Muslim woman of Pakistani origin, takes advantage of an opportunity, before 9/11, to practice medicine in Saudi Arabia. She discovers her new environment is defined by schizophrenic contrasts that create an absurd clamorous clash of modern and medieval…. It never became less arresting to behold. Ahmed’s introduction to her new environment is shocking. Her first patient is an elderly Bedouin woman. Though naked on the operating table, she still is required by custom to have her face concealed with a veil under which numerous hoses snake their way to hissing machines. Everyday life is laced with bizarre situations created by the rabid puritanical orthodoxy that among other requirements forbids women to wear seat belts because it results in their breasts being more defined, and oppresses Saudi men as much as women by its archaic rules. At times the narrative is burdened with Ahmed’s descriptions of the physical characteristics of individuals and the luxurious adornments of their homes but this minor flaw is easily overlooked in exchange for the intimate introduction to a world most readers will never know. (Sept.)  Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Denied visa renewal in America, British-born Pakistani physician Ahmed, 31, leaves New York for a job in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where she celebrates her Muslim faith on an exciting Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca even as she encounters rabid oppression from the state-sanctioned religious extremist police. She is licensed to operate ICU machines in the emergency ward, but as a woman, she is forbidden to drive, and she must veil every inch of herself. Her witty insider-outsider commentary as a Muslim and feminist, both reverent and highly critical, provides rare insight into the upper-class Saudi scene today, including the roles of women and men in romance, weddings, parenting, divorce, work, and friendship. After 9/11, she is shocked at the widespread anti-Americanism. The details of consumerism, complete with Western brand names, get a bit tiresome, but they are central  to this honest memoir about connections and conflicts, and especially the clamorous clash of “modern and medieval, . . . Cadillac and camel.” –Hazel Rochman

Review

Ahmed was saddened, distressed, and taken aback by her colleagues’ excitement in reaction to the 9/11 attacks. Her friends talked about how America “deserved” this tragedy because of its support of Israel. (ForeWord )

Denied visa renewal in America, British-born Pakistani physician Ahmed, 31, leaves New York for a job in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where she celebrates her Muslim faith on an exciting Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca… After 9/11, she is shocked at the widespread anti-Americanism. The details of consumerism, complete with Western brand names …. are central to this honest memoir about connections and conflicts, and especially the clamorous clash of “modern and medieval, . . . Cadillac and camel.” (Booklist )

A big-hearted examination of the extreme contradictions in a society very different-yet not so different-from our own. (Kirkus )

Despite the restrictive customs of Saudi’s religious rule, Ahmed found a vibrancy that left her hopeful. ‘Saudi is much more heterogeneous than one would expect,’ she says. ‘Muslims themselves feel fairly lost in a country so caricatured and vilified for its severe austerity and Wahhabi theocracy, but it’s also the cradle of Islam and the site of the Hajj-a symbol of what Islam could be.'” (Kirkus )

Most helpful reviews

Execllent Book

By Yasmine Jasser

I have experienced Jeddah as a Muslim American woman as well, and Dr. Ahmed’s book finally gives a point of view that is relatable and realistic, without bashing Islam or giving a one sided interpretation.

I loved this book. I had the same experience when I first put on an abaya in Saudi Arabia. I finally felt invisible. It was worst for me because I’m very white, and a lot of guys would try to hit on me. Once, in Medina, I was followed down the street by a group of guys, and they kept saying obscenties to me in arabic. I finally walked into a store and had the shop keepr come out and yell @ them. After that, I started covering my face if i went out alone. Don’t get me wrong, I am completly against covering your face, I think its so exterme, but It made things A lot easier for me when i went out alone in mecca and medina.

My favorite thing to read about in the book is probably the dynamics you had at work with all your male coworkers. Its nice to know that not all men in Saudi look down upon women, and I think my favorite male character from the hospital would have to be Haydar. I loved the support he had for Ghadah, something you rarely find in men in the middle east, especially in Saudi Arabia.

My favorite female character is definitely Dr. Maha. I love the fact that she fights for the rights of Children in Saudi arabia. Your story about the young camel rider was so sad, I can’t believe stuff like that happens over there. Thats a side of Saudi I haven’t heard of, and I’m glad its talked about in your book. Another favorite part in the book is about the car accident, with the guys coming from Bahrain. The way Saudi men drive is sooooo reckless, and I hate it. Its just the most selfish act ever. Saudi has the highest mortality rate for car accidents in the world, and its all because of these rich guys playing with their toys.

The sad thing I noticed when I was in jeddah was how disconnected all the kids I met are from their families. They are all being raised by housekeepers, and they have no sense of family. Instead they just shop and eat their grief away. Saudi is a HUGE consumer society. All they do is eat and shop. I felt bad for them, they just radiated this feeling of loneliness. These guys that are driving 100,000$ cars are the ones that were probably raised by a series of poor maids or as I like to call them indentured servants.

There are so many other parts I loved in the book. I loved how you gave a true interpretation of Islam, and explained the dynamics of the Saudi government. Most people think saudi is this way because of Islam, and they don’t realize it has nothing to do with Islam, it has to do with a corrupt group of people who have interpreted Islam for their own benefit.

Your book really gave me hope for the future of the Saudi people, especially their youth. I was so sad when I left jeddah, because of the youth that I met. Hopefully, the people you spoke about and many more of them will help change this country, and will make it a more nurturing place for all of the youth of Saudi, because as of now, they seem to be extremely lost in materialism and are only seeking pleasure and instant gratification.

Very Cinematic – This would make a great movie!

By Peter Wentworth

I read this over the weekend, based on the Dianne Rheme interview and I couldn’t put it down. The language is very descriptive in a very personal and equally unconventional way. There are dozens of images and scenes that I can picture vividly.

This was a real joy!

Long overdue for ALL Amercians (not just women) to read

By theguvn’r

This book is a fascinating account of the experiences of a Muslim female physician, educated in the U.K. and America. What is amazing is that Saudi Arabia has been our ‘ally’ and formidable trading partner, but that 99.9% of have us have no clue as to the ideological and spiritual compass of the people of this country. We just know they are our ‘friends’ and that our ‘friends’ spawned a terrorist named Osama Bin Laden (then again, Tim McVeigh used to work at WalMart). This book gives great insight into the value system and machinations of this culture and its religion, and presents some historical perspective on how its modern day presence evolved. The book is not the first but one of the best narratives of the shocking disparity between men and women in Saudi society. Dr. Ahmed described her experiences with colour, insight, and perspective. Yet she refrains from coarse judgment, appropriately so, as the modern Saudi people are proud and principled society. Hopefully our next President (and Vice president) will bring it to the White House Book Club!

From Goodreads.com

Sarah

This book provides a fascinating look inside both Saudi Arabian culture and Islam (both the moderate and the Wahabi versions). It especially gave me a much greater understanding and appreciation of moderate Islam and its values. However, I thought it was a bit too introspective even for a memoir and it’s repetitively melodramatic (I think a good 8 or so chapters include with some variation of the phrase “My pilgrimage was about to begin,” but how many times can the same pilgrimage really begin?). At their best, the author’s descriptions of her experiences provide an interesting view into Saudi society and culture, though I thought the author’s own judgments of Saudis as a group were occasionally unfair (sometimes she seems to broadly characterize Saudis as racist and shallow, which seemed to me to be an unjust prejudice given that she also describes meeting and befriending many individual Saudis that she respected). I wonder how the people described in the book would react to her portrayal of them and of their culture.

On an organizational level, it’s nice that the book consists of 38 super-short chapters — this made it eminently readable. However, it seems to me that the book could have been half as long (the author seems to have put the dictionary and thesaurus to liberal use, using strings of unnecessarily long adjectives to describe even simple things like a road or a building).

Hazel

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 are forced into a state of perpetual dependency and when even your body is not your own. As a western woman enjoying a high level of personal freedom I can barely even begin to comprehend how profoundly such restrictions must impact your psyche and sense of self.

What the author definitely deserves credit for is avoiding that typical know-it-all arrogance common among some westerners writing on foreign cultures (i.e. Paul Theroux, though he is of course far superior in literary terms). Very recognizable to me, having lived in non-western cultures for a significant portion of my life, is that sensation of enhanced cultural understanding followed by some event that brings you back to square one again, as puzzled as ever; Thus the quest goes on, but you never really get to the bottom of it. Another nicely nuanced view from the author is her perception of how not only women but also men suffer under the tyrannical apartheid of the sexes, perhaps reminiscent of Foucault’s concept of oppression (though this is entirely my own interpretation).

However, one of the things that bother me is the lack of any explanation on how the author manages to reconcile her own Muslim faith with the so obviously pervasively negative influence of the Wahabi zealots in that country. The mantra of “their religion is not my religion” somehow does not do it for me. But I suppose that may be a personal hang-up of mine. Finally, and on a rather negative note, this book is by far not a literary masterpiece. In parts it reads like a romance novel, and in other parts it manages to be rather tedious (for example the overly long description of Hajj).

Overall though, anyone who is interested in the subject matter of this book should definitely give it a try.

Kim Ingersoll

This book overall was extremely interesting….it 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 leave her apartment to go to a store without an “approved” male escort….it was dissapointg…It seemed as if in writing this she was fearful of really upsetting the male dominated regime in the off chance she would return to the Kingdom (she is currently in the US) and have to answer for it. The racist, sexist nature of the current extreme muslim regime is terrifying, it is hatefilled and violent, the account of Sept 11 is particularly saddening since every one of her accounts in the book are from American educated individuals ….this book is worth definately reading just do not let the books outside presentation fool you into thinking you are getting a true heartfelt account…instead you must intepret for yourself how terrifying it must be to be a women in this society….also she was as high standing as a women could be there….I feel for the uneducated common women and girls…it is a brutal life….

Rashida

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 also recognized for being a very complicated, yet intriguing land. The presence of expatriates in the Kingdom is not uncommon; however, one’s experience in Saudi Arabia is largely shaped by his or her country of origin. As a visibly South Asian woman, Dr. Ahmed describes how initially she was ill treated by fellow Muslim women during the Hajj solely based on her appearance, though this changed when her counterparts discovered her background. In Saudi Arabia, and throughout most of the Gulf region, a social pyramid, that puts authentic Saudi Arabs at the top and darker skinned people at the bottom, permeates society in a way that is reminiscent of legalized racism of America’s past.

Dr. Ahmed’s experience is also largely shaped by her gender. After arriving in Riyad, she quickly realizes that equality among men and women that is assured according to the Qur’an, does not exist in Saudi society. From raids by the kingdom’s religious police to separate shopping times for families and bachelors, Dr. Ahmed constantly finds her ideals about Islam and Islamic people challenged. By the end of the book, however, she comes full circle and concludes, “in this kingdom of extremes, in the sharp shadow of intolerant orthodoxy, I have pried open the seams of my faith and snatched the gemstone of belonging.” Like many others that have struggled in their personal faith, Dr. Ahmed realizes that acceptance or belonging does not come from the people but to one’s relationship with his creator.

An invigorating text, In the Land of Invisible Women engages readers with vivid descriptions of the Saudi landscape and sophisticated vocabulary (keep a dictionary handy). It is an effective book for introducing readers to the people and culture of Saudi Arabia. By opening up her life experience to the public, Dr. Ahmed encourages us to think about our own experience and what or who shapes them.

Dianne King

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 nature of Islam and the Wahabi hijacking of Islam in Saudi Arabia at the time.

She spent a lot of time talking with both women and men in the hospital where she works, forming friendships that have carried on to the present. Her probing questions are interesting, and the answers she receives are thorough, thought-provoking and informative.

Deciding to make Hajj, she travels to Mecca and experiences a deep connection to her Muslim faith in an entirely new way.

Dr. Ahmed was in Riyadh on September 11… a most upsetting time to be away from her beloved New York City.

All in all, I felt I came away with a much better understanding of the day-to-day life and feelings of people living and working in Riyadh at that time and their relationship to their religion and their feelings about the West. Highly recommended.

Smitha

Truly an astounding journey into a foreign culture. Though a non-fiction, which I usually avoid, I was hooked to the book from page 1. Saudi Arabia has been an alien country to me. I haven’t come across it much in my previous reads. I just knew that it is full of oil and rich sheikhs and there is extreme suppression of women. I was made aware of the extent of suppression of not only women, but also men, through this eye opener. I loved the people I came across in this book. Most of the Saudi people are kind and good and not at all anti-female, except for the dreaded moral police. I literally shook in my boots reading about the moral police – the mutauddin. I would dread going to this country, where non Muslims are scorned upon, females can’t show an inch of their body parts, and can’t move around without male relatives. I also came to know about the lovely Islam culture which was alien to me so far, in spite of having Muslim friends. I devoured about the original peace loving religion and how it was distorted through the ages. I loved reading about the courageous, intelligent Saudi ladies who managed to enjoy themselves in spite of rigid segregation and rules. But there are a few things I could not fathom. Almost every one the author came across was uber rich. I was amazed at the description of their houses and possessions. To boot, every female was described as ultra beautiful and every man as super handsome. How can it be? I mean, most of us are normal or above average at the most, with maybe one or two real beauties amidst us. Or was the skin and hair color with maybe genetic tall stature considered as beauty? I was horrified to read about the anti Jew and anti American sentiments of even the educated, otherwise gentle Arab.

I really enjoyed reading about Hajj. Hajj had been one mass religious feat which had surprised me, (only thing akin to Hajj in Hinduism is Kumbh Mela , to the best of my poor religious and spiritual knowledge, and yet this is not considered to be something which should be experienced by all Hindus)The description of Hajj was beautiful. I was almost transported to Mecca. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Islam, Saudi Arabia, or even human nature and culture for the matter.

Maggi

Rashida

The Land of Invisible Women

Qanta A. Ahmed, M.D.

Saudi Arabia: The country where women can’t drive. Hot. Male-dominated, strict Muslim rule. Hijab, burqa, head scarf, abbayah: prison apparel for women. Not a nice place to visit and you wouldn’t want to live there, but that’s just what Qanta Ahmed, a British doctor of Pakistani heritage, chose to do when her visa renewal for the U.S. was denied. Head-hunted by a progressive (for Saudi Arabia) hospital in Riyadh, she accepted a position with free accommodations and a “fat salary,” but ended up learning more about her Muslim faith and its practice in this Arab country than she ever bargained for.

In the Land of Invisible Women is a long book — more than 400 pages — and could definitely have benefited from tighter editing, but readers are rewarded for their patience with a wealth of information about the mysterious Saudi Kingdom and in so doing, about Islam. This book shines a different kind of light on Islam than that of Ayan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel, the story of Ali’s rejection of her Islamic faith, mostly due to the male oppression of women it tolerates and often even encourages, along with the subsequent death threats and complete banishment from her countrymen. Ahmed’s different perspective on Islam is fascinating, though conflicting and confounding. As a Western reader one finds it challenging to reconcile these disparate voices.

Ahmed, a “dues-paying Muslim” as she calls herself, is nonetheless shocked, or at the very least, bombarded, by the differences between life in the Western and Arab worlds. Though she encounters mostly highly educated Saudi women — female physicians from work — she does not find their opportunity translated into greater freedom in a place where women can’t drive and single women cannot walk unaccompanied down the street, let alone date or even let their hair show in public (not to mention bare arms). Even at the prestigious hospital where she works, female doctors have secluded offices where men are not able to see them as well as being fully covered and veiled, wearing a doctor’s lab coat on top of their abbayahs (this in a country where the temperature often soars above 110 degrees). “This veiling was anathema to me,” Ahmed states. But there is no question as to whether she can choose to veil or not: “The only way to enter public space and participate in public life in the Kingdom is behind the shield of an abbayah.” Anathema or no, Ahmed herself becomes an “invisible woman” at work, her Western, confident, assertive style of communicating as an equal with her male colleagues very off-putting to some, (not, it must be noted, to all, and she does form some close friendships with male colleagues) who react with disdain or hostility.

Using her stay in Saudi Arabia as a time to learn, Ahmed becomes sociologist as well as doctor and attempts to illuminate some Saudi “secrets.” Behind closed doors and away from men, she finds a loving sense of solidarity as well as freedom of dress and sophisticated fashion sense in women. “Turbo-charged testosterone without creative or sexual outlet” in men results in many traffic accidents, and secret rendezvous between the sexes that are so fraught with danger as to be punishable by death are not as uncommon as one might expect. Despite male oppression and the clerics’ rigid harassment, which take on more forms than Ahmed can document, she also finds unexpected tenderness and beauty at the heart of Islam, and a love of justice that not only benefits men but women as well.

Recalling the words of a colleague and father at the death of his son, Ahmed writes, “Allah wants us to learn patience. The death of a child is perhaps the most difficult test to develop this. Patience is a tremendous virtue in Islam because Allah wants us to cope with difficulties and trials always with acceptance.” This portrayal of a compassionate Islam is completely at odds with Ayan Hirsi Ali’s, who states that radical fundamentalism in Islam that spurs the Taliban and Al Quaida is not the exception but the rule. One cannot dispute Ali’s reality and experience. (She is under guard to protect her from a fatwa (death threats) for speaking out against radical Islam, her partner in a film project murdered by radicals) and she is to be greatly admired for her courage in the face of incredible personal risk.

There is, apparently, another truth about Islam as well, however, which would be no surprise to the millions of Muslims living in the Western world. Revealed in dozens of popular examples of modern literature, both fiction and factual, from Reading Lolita in Tehran to Three Cups of Tea to The Kite Runner, is the idea that Islam is a religion that has been hijacked by bullies, whose rigid misogynist subjugation of women hurts men as well, men who also suffer brutal repression in Saudi Arabia at the hands of the Mutaween (Wahabi clerics whose extreme branch of Islam distorts Islamic teaching and who declare Islamic scholarship to be “a corruption of the prophet’s divine instruction”).

This is not to say that Ahmed found many men who openly disagreed with Sharia law, which requires women to take a backseat to men. Indeed, the veiling she hates clearly enables men to not even see women in many instances. However, according to Ahmed, the strict fundamentalist interpretation of Sharia law does not resonate with the personal belief system of modern Saudis. Prior to the resurgence of Wahabi clerics (concurrent with the Ayatollah Khomeini’s leadership in Iran) following King Faisal’s assassination in1975, and the uneasy parasitic relationship between the clerics and the Saudi royalty, women in Saudi Arabia as well as in other parts of the Arab world were not required to veil themselves any longer, and the progressive opening up of opportunities for women in the Western world had begun to be felt in the Middle East as well.

All this being said, however, it may be all too easy for Westerners (like me) to dismiss Islam as a repressive and ultra-conservative religion, but Ahmed illuminates (in a sometimes clunky, overly verbose way, it might be noted) some of the beauty and mystery at the heart of all religions. Availing herself of the opportunity to make a Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, she experiences the love of a forgiving God and an ecstatic oneness that brings to mind Buddhist meditative states as well as the joyful love of a Christian God. Ancient Islamic stories are revealed to contain numerous echoes and connection to Christian theology and the Bible, some of which, as with Christianity, find their roots in pagan rituals as well.

“This was Islam: Hajj! Not the Muttawa with their nightsticks and nihilism. Equality in the eyes of our Maker, whether we be men or women, able-bodied or deformed, black or white…”

This is not the Islam Ayan Hirsi Ali writes about, nor the Islam of the Taliban. Neither is the justice inherent in Sharia law, which though unquestionably slanted toward male domination, surprisingly includes items such as stipulations about a divorced male’s financial obligations toward his divorced wife, whose status is protected. (Though divorce is deeply frowned upon, divorce rates in Saudi Arabia have risen astronomically.) A Saudi wife may ask for divorce if her husband insists on a second wife she does not agree to, and he must provide for both equally. He is also required by the Quran to love both wives equally as well. “And for you as a human being this will be very difficult,” (the Quran advises) “because partiality is a natural human tendency and therefore you will not be able to fulfill the recommendations in this way,” a friend explains to Ahmed. Another puts it this way: “Generations of women are ignorant of the Quran and its teachings. If we don’t inform ourselves as women, we don’t know about the rights we can exercise, which are empowering to women actually, because Islam is such an egalitarian religion! Islam gave women inheritance rights and property rights and the rights to divorce and choose a marriage partner. Servitude never enters the equation. Beatings are Haram [unholy, sinful:].”

Who knew? According to those from whom Ahmed learns about Islamic law, “Islam believes in equality and infinite justice.” As a Westerner I found this both enlightening and shocking when considered in the light of the many modern Islamic countries that allow, indeed, encourage, not only subjugation of women, but limiting (and even completely disallowing) educational and career opportunities for them. This strange and terrible disparity speaks to the deep complexity of cultural differences. As Ahmed, Ali and countless others have addressed, it remains to be seen whether Muslims can take back their religion from the hands of the radical conservatives that dominate the laws of the land in many Islamic countries. One can only hope.

Kim Mallady

This is the story of an ethnically Pakistani woman who was raised in England, received her medical training in New York, and then decided to spend a few years (2000-2001) practicing medicine in Saudi Arabia. This book started off as a very interesting read. For the first half I was totally absorbed and amazed by life in Saudi Arabia. It was hard to believe that such an oppressed society could really exist in this day and age. Her descriptions of life there seemed so alien, but at the same time she would describe people who are completely (of course) human. It seems to be such a strange combination of darkness and enlightenment. I also really enjoyed the author’s descriptions of Islam and how a lot of what the Muslim extremists do is in direct conflict with her view of what Islam truly is. It was good to have that insight into Islam to counterbalance the Muslim extremists I often see in the news who seem to value death above all else. While in Saudi Arabia she went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, which she recounted in amazing detail that I very much enjoyed. On the other hand, her description of the reaction of the people while she was there during 9/11 was gut-wrenching. She witnessed people cheering the deaths of 3,000 innocent people in America. Staff at her hospital even ordered cake in celebration. Jubilation seemed to be the unanimous reaction of all of the Saudis she spoke with on and after that day, even the ones she thought were more enlightened than others. It’s hard for me to imagine being happy for the deaths of 3,000 people, no matter who they may be. It’s even harder to imagine what it must’ve been like for her to have to watch her colleagues cheer and eat cake in celebration of murdered Americans who may have been her friends from her days of training in New York.

Unfortunately, about halfway through this novel I started to find some of the descriptions pretty tedious. It was all more of the same and I was getting bored. I also didn’t like the last chapter, where she went back to Saudi Arabia after leaving for several years. Her descriptions of the changes from the time she left to the time she returned were cursory and abrupt. Frankly, I found the ending chapter to be a little disappointing because throughout the rest of the book she was telling us how bad things are in Saudi Arabia and then suddenly she tacked on “P.S. things aren’t so bad now.” I would have preferred if she had started out the book by saying “Things aren’t so bad now, but this how they used to be a few years ago.” That would’ve at least put me in the right frame of mind.

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Categories: Literature, Sociology
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