Adventures in Reading

Nonfiction: In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta A. Ahmed, MD

Sourcebooks, Inc. kindly sent me a copy of the memoir In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta A. Ahmed, MD, which was perfect timing as I had just heard Ahmed’s interview on the Diane Rehm Show and was quite curious about the book. Ahmed, “a British Muslim doctor,” is denied a visa to stay within the United States and quickly makes up her mind to accept a position in Saudi Arabia. Her memoir In the Land of Invisible Women offers a unique perspective of a western woman, professional doctor, and Muslim living within the kingdom.

I feel that most of what I know about Saudi Arabia has been my interpretation of evening news’ sound bytes. Via an original and interesting perspective, Ahmed takes the reader through her experience of Saudi Arabia, particularly in Riyadh [1], where she worked as a doctor for two years at the National Guard Hospital. In the Land of Invisible Women reads as a cross between a medical narrative and a memoir, and also manages to pursue two distinctly interesting themes: a western woman’s experience within the Kingdom and a lifelong Muslim’s interaction with more extreme forms of Islam.

My only complaint about the book regard some structural issues as some chapters read as disjointed. Assumedly the format is chronological, though certainly gaps of time are missing, but the reader at times is expected to make shaky leaps between one handful of chapters, for example, that focus on Hajj season to the next handful of chapters detailing Ahmed’s experience with romance in Riyadh. Relatively a minor distraction, but it did force me to wonder if I had managed to skip pages.

What I most appreciated about this book was Ahmed’s divulgence of her opinion and how she avoided becoming dismissive of other’s beliefs. The author is consistently willing to acknowledge the complex traditions and cultures that, for example, produce both negative and positive responses to wearing the abbayah. Nevertheless, Ahmed still beautifully asserts her arguments and confronts the anti-Semitism, the sexism, and the anti-western attitudes she experienced.

In the Land of Invisible Women gave me a lot to think about, and just not about the complexities of Saudi Arabia but also my country’s, the U.S.A., interactions within the Middle East.

[1] I now have a new appreciation for The Girls of Riyadh, a book I previously shrugged off as so-so pop-literature.

Other opinions: Book Addiction.

Conclusion: Available on Bookmooch.



Right on! After I finished Finding Nouf, I’ve been searching for more books that explore the subject of feminist issues and sexism in the Middle East. I came across the gaudy cover of The Girls of Riyadh and immediately decided against getting the book. In The Land of Invisible Women sounds like something that answers my call.

Comment by Matthew

Matthew: Another book, and a superb book in my opinion, on feminism and women’s issues in the Middle East is the book City of Widows.

Comment by bookchronicle

Try Prisoner of Tehran. I found that memoir to be incredible and factual.

Comment by April

After 9/11 my plans to visit Dubai and Kuwait were scratched. The trauma from that horrific event left me quite disturbed about Islam and the general state of affairs in the entire Middle-East. Thankfully after reading “In the Land of Invisible Women” by Qanta A. Ahmed(a book I simply could not put down)I now have a better understanding of the Islamic complexities within Saudi-Arabia, as compared to other Muslim countries. I was so fascinated by her pilgrimage to Mecca and her return to the Holy Mosque and the Ka’aba the night before her departure to New York. I salute Dr. Qanta for her courage, honesty, faith, and tenacity. Moreover, the efforts of the progressive Saudi women for a more just society fill me with great hope and joy. Their resolve to elevate the status of women in Saudi Arabia, and throughout the Muslim world, is commendable and deserving of our most fervent prayers. InshAllah, it will be accomplished soon. Shukran jaziilan tabiib Qanta.

Comment by Felice

Agreed with you re this book. Reading Honeymoon in Tehran by Azadeh Moaveni now. Interesting stuff! Review of this book at

Comment by Maggi Brown

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