The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris by Leïla Marouane (tr. Alison Anderson)

a nutshell: sharing the possibly delusionary (?) perspective of an Algerian-born, Paris-based man who decides to leave his mother’s home in search of independence, this novel continually took me by surprise

a line: “A place where, he said to me, you have come to listen to me at last”

an image: I was particularly moved by a moment when the narrator recalls his mother describing how she gave up her education & independence to marry, according to her father’s wishes, and from then on devoted herself to raising & educating her children

a thought: I may be in the minority (at least, according to Goodreads…) but I found this book fascinating & totally entertaining – I loved the ambiguity that allowed me to come to my own conclusions about the narrator’s reliability/motives

a fact: born in 1960 in Djerba, Tunisia, to a family living in exile, Marouane then lived in Biskra until she was six and in Algiers until her exile to Paris in 1991

want to read The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris? visit here

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

a nutshell: from Somalia to the US via Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Netherlands, this polarising public figure’s memoir follows her journey through an unimaginably turbulent childhood into an adulthood that pivots on her vocal disavowal of her former religion, Islam

a line: “Drinking wine and wearing trousers were nothing compared to reading the history of ideas.”

an image: while describing the period of her childhood spent in Mecca, the writer conjures up a strikingly vivid contrast between what she sees as the cool, beautiful, kindly space within the Grand Mosque and the intensely hot, filthy, cruel space outside the mosque’s doors

a thought: I was intrigued by Ali’s fairly understated comment on p.94 that novels were what saved her from submission – reading fiction gave her glimpses of another world, which ultimately sparked the sense of rebellion that changed her life, but once she had landed in the other world she refers only to non-fiction

a fact: Ali and I occupy very opposite ends of the political spectrum – and while I do try to read widely, which necessarily includes views I disagree with, my interest in the book waned as it went on; I felt like it became less a reflection on Ali’s life story and more an engine for promoting her hostility towards Islam

want to read Infidel? visit here

Sarab by Raja Alem (tr. Leri Price)

veiled woman on front cover of Sarab book with white and black scarf

a nutshell: this sweeping novel follows a woman whose familial devotion leads her to participate in the 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, ultimately transporting her far from the Saudi desert where she grew up

a line: “Is it a duty in life to kill those who aren’t an exact copy of ourselves?”

an image: at one moment, a character opens the door to an apartment immersed in darkness where he could’ve cut the curtains of depression with a knife (PTSD is an ongoing theme)

a thought: I was intrigued by Alem’s tacit condemnation of gender stereotypes – how she portrays & subverts expectations of how a man or a woman should behave, e.g. probing a protagonist’s initial shock at a man in tears or traditional disgust at women’s menstruation – the latter is an issue that recurs throughout the novel

a fact: I began the book with virtually zero knowledge of this event in 1979 and learned more about it here; interestingly it seems the House of Saud’s response was essentially: ‘the solution to the religious upheaval was simple: more religion’

want to read Sarab? visit here