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.


Fiction: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1943

In a previous post I mentioned copyright information and thanks to an NPR radio show I can say one of my favorite (and nerdiest) games involves the copyright page. For example: “1. Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)–Fiction. 2. Poor families–Fiction. 3. Girls–Fiction. I. Title.” Now, guess the book. Give up? It’s Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. (I admit it was a tough one.) For years I had been reading books and entirely ignoring the copyright material unless I was citing for a paper, but once you get beyond the legal jargon there are at least a few interesting tidbits.

I finally finished A Tree Grows in Brooklyn today and I do not think I can say I love it enough. As I previously mentioned (I believe), I read the book some time in high school though upon finishing the book I must assume I never actually finished the book. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is Betty Smith’s (I keep wanting to say White!) classic 1947 coming of age novel about Francie Nolan. Smith’s story revolves around the Nolan family and equally provides a socio-political look at Brooklyn, New York at the turn of the century. White was born and raised in Brooklyn, which offers an intimate look at the Williamsburg neighborhood the story occurs in. While Francie is our narrator her father Johnny Nolan and her mother Katie Rommely (and her sisters) play equally important parts in the book.

The perspective that White chose allows us to experience the time period from Francie’s childhood experience as well as through her parents struggling to make ends meet. Throughout the novel, Francie’s father experiences different phases of alcoholism and as a result the family can seldom depend on him. This becomes a defining character of the Rommely (Francie included) women: you may sexually desire a man but you will still have to rely on yourself.

Now what stops me the most when thinking about this book is the term classic. Perhaps I’m simply running around in the wrong circles but when people list American classics seldom have I heard A Tree Grows in Brooklyn mentioned. But in many ways I would say this novel is just as important as The Grape’s of Wrath or The Jungle. I admit part of me wonders how much it has to do with the feminine streak of the novel. Obviously a woman wrote the book and the main character is a girl but women’s experience in this period and in Williamsburg is clearly represented. We experience birth, death, work, suffering, happiness, love, sex, violence, etc all from a woman’s perspective and interpretation. Admittedly something more tender seems to exist in this novel than the other two classics I have mentioned.

The final few pages of the book also notified me about the other novels and plays that Betty Smith had written. For whatever reason I always assumed Smith wrote the one book (a la Harper Lee) and retired. However, now I must check out Joy in the Morning and Maggie-Now.

And another review at Trish’s Reading Nook.