The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam
by G. Willow Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In a world where most Americans’ views on the Middle East are biased by polarizing media stories on nuclear weapons and dictators, The Butterfly Mosque
depicts the real pulse of Egypt encountered by the author during the ‘90s. Willow narrates how after graduating from college with a history degree and a draw towards Islam, she takes a job as a teacher in Cairo, where she finds her future husband and also becomes a Muslim.
I loved seeing Egyptian society through Wilson’s American perspective because she skillfully pulls the reader into understanding the intimate exchanges of extended family (as we see her become integrated into an Egyptian family herself), the politics of negotiating the best prices at a souk
(market), and the expected social dynamics between men and women. Some of the book’s broader ideas address cultural differences between the East and West. An example of Wilson’s many musings is a rhetorical question: why is it acceptable in America for men and women to kiss each other on the cheek as a greeting, but not for men and men, while the opposite is true in Egypt—even though both sides claim that the kiss is completely platonic?
Wilson also fights back against the common Western portrayal of Islam as oppressive and anti-feminist, and I wish more could hear her message that even though something may seem different than what you believe in, one shouldn’t take it at face value, and definitely shouldn’t rush to label it as backwards.
If you’re worried this book is a little too deep for you, don’t worry—there’s plenty of entertaining anecdotes about Willow’s difficulties with Arabic and her adventures with her close roommate, an example being when they have to help a cat give birth. Despite a disappointing cliffhanger ending, I cherished this book and read it again within a week. For those who would like to have their eyes opened to another culture or who are interested in learning more about Islam, I strongly recommend picking up The Butterfly Mosque
. —Review by Ritu B. ’24
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The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions by Karen Armstrong
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
In The Great Transformation, religious historian Karen Armstrong sets out to analyze the origins of Buddhism, Judaism, Confucianism, and Daoism in the context of political and social strife in the centuries leading up to the Common Era. As a primer to the study of ancient Mediterranean and East Asian philosophy, The Great Transformation occasionally hits the mark: its analyses of the historical realities of the Babylonian Captivity in the Middle East and the Period of the Warring States in China bring clarity to historical periods often overshadowed by the state-building that occurred on either side. Such moments of lucidity, however, appear far too rarely in this thick 500-page text. Having set out to compress an eight-hundred-year history of philosophical movements in the entire Eastern Hemisphere into a single volume, Armstrong falls almost constantly into disjointed, abstract accounts of wars, reigns, and migrations, indulging in so many disparate stories that her ostensible subject—commonalities of Mediterranean and Asian religious movements—disappears for twenty pages or more. Too wide-ranging to shed light on any particular historical subject and too bogged down in specifics to synthesize its parts into one coherent thesis, Armstrong’s book leaves the reader with little more than a mound of undigested historical facts by the last page.
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Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective by Agatha Christie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In this collection of short stories featuring Parker Pyne, one of Christie’s lesser-known detectives, various customers answer a mysterious ad in the newspaper: “Are you happy? If not, consult Mr. Parker Pyne, 17 Richmond Street.” After solving a number of cases with ease (and suffering one embarrassing defeat), he goes on a long trip around the Mediterranean, encountering a mad noblewoman, an impoverished archaeologist, and—of course—a few murders. Mr. Pyne proves to be a complex character, but his motives remain unclear throughout the collection. Why, exactly, does he consent to help such a wide range of customers? Why does one story portray him as generous and kind, when in the next he shows a total lack of empathy? And how has he come to understand the human mind so fully that he can predict a crime before it even occurs? A full-length novel, perhaps, could answer these questions, but the short story format just left me wanting more details. Nevertheless, any fan of Christie’s novels should read this collection and meet the mysterious, calculating man known as Mr. Parker Pyne. – Andrew R. ‘17
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A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns is so enchanting, I devoured it in three days. The novel illustrates the lives of Laila and Mariam, two Afghani women from different backgrounds, and emphasizes the stance of women’s rights in Afghanistan. The vivid imagery, violent motifs, perfect use of themes, and incorporation of cultural terms empowered the novel. This book made Khaled Hosseini one of my all-time favorite authors. This page-turner left a lasting impact on me, changed my perception of women’s rights internationally, and made me appreciate the feminist movement in America. This book is a must-read for everyone, especially those interested in the Middle East or the feminist movement. A Thousand Splendid Suns was even better than Hosseini ‘s earlier book, The Kite Runner, which is hard to surpass. – Zina J. ’14
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