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By Avalon on 01-05-18
This well-written but unpretentious ethnography of a rural Iraqi village is the most authentic view you will ever find into the lives of women in the middle east. Author Elizabeth Fernea, a young newlywed, follows her husband on his middle eastern doctoral research, settling in a mud hut in Al Nahra in 1956, the first western woman ever to live in the village.
Like the village women, Elizabeth dons the full-length black veil and becomes immersed in the culture, secluded from the men, but making friends with the sheikh's wives in the harem. At first, she is pitied by the women (skinny, short hair, no children), but gradually improves her Arabic and learns to navigate the culture, becoming part of the social tapestry of the village. Eventually, she is embraced by the women, who treat her as one of their own family.
Her observations and insights into the daily lives of the village women provide a unique and invaluable snapshot into the sheltered lives of work, childbearing, religious observances, and plural marriage experienced by Iraqi women in that time and place.
Like Elizabeth, you will be puzzled by the customs, develop empathy for the women, come to love the life, and feel her heartbreak when she has to leave. The stories are unforgettable. Both Fernea and her husband, after more than a decade in the middle east, returned to the US as college professors, and Elizabeth, also an author and filmmaker, created multiple works about her time in the middle east. Her other books include "A Street in Marrakesh" and "A View of the Nile." After leaving Al Nahra in 1958, she had a rare opportunity to catch up with some of her old village friends in 1997, the details of which you can read in "The Arab World," a book she co-wrote with her husband.
Don't miss this extraordinary and unforgettable book, a seminal work about the lives of Iraqi village women in the 1950's. Although it has become a college text, it reads like a heartwarming memoir of a very special time. Thank you, Professor Fernea, for this illuminating work, and thank you, Audible, for producing the long-awaited audiobook.