Sunday, August 1, 2010

Review: I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced (Ali)

Title: I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced
Author: Nujood Ali (with Delphine Minoui)
Genre: Non-fiction
Pages: 178
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Challenges: Middle East, POC, Women Unbound
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for my Birthday and am going to donate it to my school's library
Summary (from the back of the book): Nujood Ali's childhood came to an abrupt end in 2008 when her father arranged for her to be married to a man three times her age. With arrowing directness, Nujood tells of abuse at her husband's hands and of her daring escape. With the help of local advocates and the press, Nujood obtained her freedom--an extraordinary achievement in Yemen, where almost half of all girls are married under the legal age. Nujood's courageous defiance of both Yemeni customs and her own family even inspired other young girls in the Middle East to challenge their marriages.

Review: This is the first book I am reading for my Middle East Reading Challenge. I had heard good things about it around the blogosphere so was looking forward to reading it; I wasn't disappointed.

I remember this news story when it hit the world. Like most people, my gut reaction was shock and anger: a 10 year old getting married? Unlike many others, my second and follow-up responses were to take a step back and question it. I felt like I didn't want to judge without all the information. While cultures and countries around the world have customs that are strange and seem "wrong" to me, I also try to remember that my way of doing things isn't always the "right" way and that I should be open to differences.

Don't get me wrong... I still do not support anyone getting marrying without their consent and I certainly don't support physical and sexual abuse. But there are often extenuating circumstances when events take place. I cannot put myself in the place of Nujood's family: illiterate; many children; no money; unable to feed the family, etc. What would I do? I don't know. However, I do feel that the  primary role of a parent is to look out for what is best for my child. My overwhelming feeling from reading this books is that the adults in her life did not looked out for her best interests.

What is even more extraordinary than Nujood getting married at age 10 is the fact that she got out. She was 10 years old, a girl in a culture that does not support it's girls/women very well, and she got herself to a courthouse and confronted men she didn't know, and told a story of abuse and sex that must have been SO awkward and difficult. It goes against everything she was taught. And, she did it without the support of her family. To me, this is the real story: the story of triumph, inspiration, and success.

Obviously, Nujood gets her divorce. Finally there are adults (3 judges and a lawyer) who support her and do what's right by her. They give her the opportunity to be a kid, to go to school, to avoid abuse, and to begin her life again. And, in turn, she can keep an eye out for her younger sister so that she too can go to school and not be married off at an early age.

Books like this one really cover two interesting themes: (1) the actual story that is the center and (2) the culture of the country that they are set in. I learned a lot about Yemen (at least for poor families) in the process of reading this book. I have traveled to Yemen's neighbor, Oman, a number of times and the two countries seem so different. However, I realize that the Omanis I know are extremely educated and well-traveled; I don't know what life is like for the families in the villages we've driven through and where we have only had very brief visits.

What book(s) do you feel like gave you a glimpse into a culture and not just one person's story?

7 comments:

Aths said...

You are right that we shouldn't be too quick to judge people/culture that do things differently. That's the first trap we fall into. Even before reading about something, we have already decided who's innocent and guilty.

What Nujood went through is harsh, but the saddest part is it still happens, not just in Yemen, but in several other places around the world.

Great review, as always!

Booksnob said...

I might have to buy this one and read it out loud to my 9th grade Humanities classes. Past classes loved the book PRINCESS as we spent a whole year reading all three of her books aloud. I think this book would generate really great discussions. Do you agree?

Helen's Book Blog said...

Aths--It is definitely difficult not to put our own cultural ideas onto others; it's something I am working on. It makes me want to go to these countries (and within my own) and solve everyone's problems, but I can't.

Booksnob--I do think it would be a good read aloud. It isn't too long either and would definitely get discussion going on many topics

Amanda said...

My sister used to live in Yemen so I asked her about this case when I heard about it. I was thinking that there may be something to explain why the parents did what they did, that the husband lied in saying he wouldn't touch that little girl until she was of age, extreme poverty, anything that could explain what in our culture looks awful. My sister said that in Yemen, selling your daughters that young is considered extremely wrong and shameful and that the family went against their culture to do that, probably getting censured by people around them when the knowledge came out. I thought that was an interesting way to look at it. I mean, instead of judging the whole culture as many people do when they hear of this, thinking selling off little kids is normal, this was just a case of a family going against the rules, just like people who abuse their kids here.

PS - I'm not saying that YOU are judging their culture. I just reread this comment and realized that's how that may have sounded. I only meant that many people, when they heard of this case, didn't do what you did and ask WHY. They just blindly judged.

Helen's Book Blog said...

Amanda--Wow! Why was your sister in Yemen? I think it is really important to consider the class level of people in any culture when we think about why they do what they do. Nujood's family was uneducated, extremely poor, and lived in a village of 5 houses. Her dad even said that marrying her to an older man would mean she was taken care of and they would have one less mouth to feed. The husband did promise not to touch her until a year after her period started, but broke that promise on the first night.

I also like your point about not forgetting our own culture (domestic violence, pedophiles, etc). We cannot judge a culture based on the few sensational stories that we hear. People in the cities were outraged when her story came out.

Brenda said...

I thought the Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns addressed what the culture was like.

I think it is hard for us sometimes to understand what goes on in the world b/c the crazy things that go on in our culture are usually sub-groups not the mainstream.

When I was a student teacher (many moons ago) one of the girls in my class did not return. She was a thirteen year old Puerto Rican girl and her parents married her off. She never returned to school

Helen's Book Blog said...

Brenda--I've read (and loved) Kite Runner, but haven't yet gotten to Thousand Splendid Suns though I have heard it was also really good. I agree Kite Runner gave a good insight into Afghani culture.

Married at 13 is just so difficult to comprehend! I am reading Half the Sky, which is all about these issues and is really interesting!