Saturday, August 06, 2016

I am Nujood: Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali and Delphine Minoui (Book Review #35 of 2016)

I am Nujood: Age 10 and Divorced

I recently finished a host of books on the history and development of Islam and Middle Eastern history. I also read several which included some critiques along with views to the future and reform. I then worked through a list of books by Muslim women, most of which bring light to and critique inhumane practices found in their home countries. Included in this list was Nick Kristof's Half the Sky which looks at women's rights globally, and I'm also including another by someone who left Islam after an extensive intellectual and spiritual search. This book review is in the context of all of those books as a whole. The list (reviews forthcoming):

Heretic - Ayan Hirsi Ali (4 stars)
Headscarves and Hymens - Mona Eltahawy (3.5 stars)
The Land of Invisible Women -  Qanta Ahmed (4.5 stars)
I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced - Nujood Ali (4.5 stars)
City of Lies - Ramita Navai (3 stars)
Seeking Allah Finding Jesus - Nabeel Qureshi (4.5 stars)
Half the Sky - Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (4 stars)

In previous years I had read these which were similar to the above:
Desperately Seeking Paradise - Ziauddin Sardar (5 stars)
I Am Malala - Malala Yousafzai (5 stars)
Infidel - Ayan Hirsi Ali (4.5 stars)

I've also read books by former Secretaries of State that highlight some of the lives of the women above and the fight for women's rights.

This is a heartbreaking book by a little girl who is extraordinarily courageous. Nujood's tale highlights the plight of young women in Yemen; the reaction and assistance she gets from officials in her escape from her forced marriage indicate that her predicament is particularly unusual, but not unheard of, at such an early age. She's truly unique in that she asks for a divorce. It is a cautionary tale meant to attract more attention to the issue of women, particularly girls' rights. It is very similar in tone to Malala Yusafzai's book.

Nujood had a relatively normal village childhood until her 13 year old sister, Jamila, was forced to marry and leave the village over an honor issue, tainting the family. Nujood's impetuous brother runs away from home, breaking his parents' hearts. Only much later does Nujood learn that Jamila was forced to leave because she was raped by their eldest sister's (Mona) husband, who had married Mona at age 13. Jamila is arrested, and Mona's children are taken by her mother-in-law. She ends up practically raising Nujood and supporting her later in court. It is her and her father's second wife's character that give Nujood the understanding later that what she's dealing with isn't right, and that she doesn't have to take abuse.

Nujood is given in marriage around age nine, she is uncertain of her real age. The family justifies the marriage because the Prophet Muhammad married Aisha when she was nine, and there is a Yemenese saying "To guarantee a happy marriage marry a nine year old girl." The groom promises not to consummate the marriage until Nujood reaches puberty, only to show he and his mother-in-law's real intentions once Nujood enters their compound. The wedding night is a harrowing ordeal I will not repeat. The beatings continue at the encouragement of the wicked mother-in-law.

Eventually, Nujood convinces her husband to take her to her home village to see her family. Her aunt, which is her father's second wife, is horrified at her tale and encourages her to seek help. She takes a taxi to the courthouse by herself, a real act of bravery. It strikes me that she knew what was happening was wrong, had been raised feisty and independent-minded enough not to take crap from men, and is determined to see this through and never go back. The judges are shocked that she's requestion a divorce; they've never encountered anyone wed before the age of 15 who asked for one. One judge takes her home to his family to hear her story and is deeply disturbed.

There is at least one women's rights lawyer in Yemen, and she hears about the case and decides to take it as it gains national attention. Nujood speaks openly to journalists. The judges arrest both Nujood's husband and her father for marrying him off. The father testifies that he was promised the marriage would not be consumated before puberty, and the husband's lawyers make an issue of the fact that she has no official ID, no way to determine her real age, so the proceedings can't for forward. Her father actually testifies that she is 13 and that her sisters were kidnapped. Eventually, the husband admits the consummation and after a courtroom squabble the judge grants the divorce.

At the end of the book, Nujood learns the real story of her sister Mona and her circumstances. Mona's daughter is being used as a beggar to profit her mother-in-law, and she works to be reunited. The law in Yemen is changed to raise the marrying age to 17, but it is later struck down for being un-Islamic. Publication of Nujood's story encouraged women in Yemen and elsewhere to come forward with stories of child rape and demanding divorces. Proceeds from this book go to a trust for Nujood who is learning to live a more celebrity life and attending private school, but reports suggest Nujood suffered retaliation by having her passport revoked. An article in The Guardian published in 2013 quotes Nujood as saying her father bilked the money being given by internationals to support her and kicked her out of the house and was trying to marry off her younger daughter. Nujood still wants to leave Yemen and become a lawyer.

In all, I give this book 4.5 stars out of 5. Like Malala's book, you know that an adult has had a large hand in writing it and shaping what and how things are told. When she's telling her story to judges and journalists it is hard to believe she is 10 (a fourth or fifth grader in the US). But her story seems to hold up to the accounts that the courts heard, and her life in 2013 did not seem to be remarkably improved as her father continued to exploit and demean her. I am angry when I think of the thousands of girls like Nujood who suffer every day, their stories untold.

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