It has taken me a few days after finishing this book to take the moment to review it. I usually do that; it gives me time to think about what I want to write, and, as in this case, it gives me time to emotionally recover from the impact the book has had on me.
This is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She was born in Somalia, and grew up there and in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. The first half of her book, Infidel, introduces the reader to her brother, sister, mother, father, and the environment in which she spent her childhood/adolescence. It is a tough read, and I found myself having to limit how much I could take in one sitting. She underwent the worst of what you would imagine it would be like to grow up in a repressive, poor, religiously fundamental culture. I won’t spend much time reviewing this part of the book, but understand the second half wouldn’t be what it is without the first.
As a young adult, she was married (she wasn’t present at her wedding) to a cousin of her father’s choosing, and on her way to Canada to live with him, she sought asylum in the Netherlands. It was there she began to question the foundations of beliefs she had been indoctrinated with. She was troubled with reconciling how clean and functional the country was in spite of the fact that it was secular, and memories of her own home countries. She also observed women in a free society, and was moved by the parenting of a friend with small children who was patient and nurturing, instead of violent and condemning.
Her description of riding a bicycle for the first time made me cry. She writes about taking off her robe, putting on “oversized men’s trousers” and feeling the wind in her face and the elation of freedom of movement. It was just a paragraph in this book with a long list of remarkable events, but it touched me beyond my ability to convey.
She eventually graduated from college, became a member of Dutch Parliament, and became an outspoken critic of Islam, and a supporter of women’s rights. She made a short film with Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker, which is disturbingly beautiful:
Tragically, Van Gogh was killed by an Islamic fanatic, and pinned with a knife to his chest was a death threat for Hirsi Ali as well. She has since moved to the United States, and of course, lives with constant security concerns. After having read this book, I googled her name and watched every video interview with her. She is articulate and gracious and beautiful and fiercely independent, perhaps a throwback to her clan of birth, a clan that was born to rule. She is smart and warm and funny, and she is one of my personal champions.
I highly recommend this book. While you read about horrific events that occurred in the life of this woman, the writing remains straightforward and concise. She neither overplays nor underplays the trauma in her life, and I can’t imagine reading this without being moved by both the importance of this book, and the character of the author.
As always, if you do choose to read it, please let me know: discussing books is a joy and a privilege for me, and I’ll also reciprocate with whatever book you recommend! (and yes, I’m including my conservative friends and the Sarah Palin book – which will have to be a Reciprocal Read pact, cuz I’m not reading it otherwise!)
Thanks for reading!