Monday, January 29, 2018

Nine Parts of Desire - Geraldine Brooks

Nine Parts of Desire
Title: Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Publication Date: 1994
Pages: 255
Genre:  Faith / Historical / Memoir / Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I really like Brooks's fiction work.
Date Completed: 1/15/18

Summary: Years of on-the-ground research and relationship building paved the way for Brooks to write this fascinating look into the lives and dreams of Muslim women across the Middle East.

What I Thought: I picked this up because I am such a fan of Brooks's fiction work. I was unaware she had a previous life as a journalist and nonfiction author and I wanted to explore that side of her writing. It comes as no surprise that Brooks brings the same fabulous attention to character and beautiful prose to her nonfiction writing. 

I've made an intentional effort in the past few years to read more about people and cultures outside of my own experience. This book fits perfectly into that pursuit. To my own regret, I don't have a lot of relational experience with Muslims. I have known some, certainly, but I've never been close enough to consider someone of that faith a friend. It's something I would like to change in my life. For now, though, I'm learning about the faith and culture through books like this one. 

Though Brooks wrote this book nearly twenty-five years ago, it still holds so much insight into the daily lives of Muslim women and their history. Brooks includes lots of history of the faith and the women who influenced the prophet Mohammad in his day. I found that aspect particularly interesting as I know so little about the history of the faith. For instance, Muhammad only began receiving revelations on the status of women and marrying multiple wives after the death of his first wife, to whom he was married for twenty-four years. That kind of fascinating information is scattered throughout the book. As Brooks points out, knowing the circumstances in which Mohammad received many of his revelations about women can be a very different experience for someone of the faith versus a skeptic. To an unbeliever, some of the revelations just look too convenient. However, I know people who are not Christians say the same about Christian beliefs, so I tried to take that into consideration as I read. 

This book is part of my 2018 TBR Challenge!
Brooks also spends a lot of time on the politics of Muslim women. She celebrates their victories. Pakistan, Turkey, and Bangladesh have all had a woman serve in their highest political office, something the United States has yet to achieve. However, as most of us are aware, many Muslim women in the Middle East face intense political restrictions everywhere from the ballot box to the driver's seat of a car. She explores the lives of ordinary women and famous women such as Queen Noor of Jordan. Brooks clearly gained the trust of countless people which gave her incredible access and information that, especially at the time, would have been impossible for most journalists to obtain.

As Brooks points out, "the nature of the Arabic language [means] that a precise translation of the Koran [is] unobtainable." This ambiguity has created so much of the turmoil we see in the Muslim world. Brooks explores those dichotomies with grace and nuance. I would love to see an updated version of this book, particularly since I know things have changed significantly in many of these countries since the Iraq War. Still, even with the significant passage of time, this book is an amazing look into a world so foreign to so many of us. There is a lot to learn here, especially for those of us in American for whom these cultures can feel so distant. 

Quotes I Loved:

  • "Muslims see the West's sexual revolution as an inevitable reaction to churches that tried to suppress and make shameful the God-given sexual urge." 
  • "Women bear the brunt of fending off social disorder in the Catholic tradition because they aren't considered sexually active, and in the Muslim tradition because they are."
I read this book in participation with
Roof Beam Reader's 2018 TBR Pile Challenge.

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Yes, very likely
Other Books By Geraldine Brooks: Year of Wonders / People of the Book / March / The Secret Chord

A Reduced Review: A powerful look at the lives of Muslim women throughout the history of the religion; this book is both educational and an enjoyable read thanks to Brooks's extensive research and skill with words.

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