Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta Ahmed (a review)

In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom
3.5 out of 5: In the Land of Invisible Women is the personal account of a British Muslim doctor who moves to Saudi Arabia for a year to work in a hospital. Dr. Ahmed's story reveals the often shocking details about living in Saudi Arabia, a place generally closed to Western scrutiny. As a woman, Dr. Ahmed is subject to Saudi Arabia's strict requirement of full veiling for all women in public. Other morality laws, including restrictions on her freedom to travel without an appropriate male escort, further truncate the freedoms she's used to exercising in the West. Dr. Ahmed finds herself in a male-dominated workplace and must learn to live and work within this foreign, and often repugnant, social structure. Perhaps the most interesting part of this story is the full account of Dr. Ahmed's Hajj (a Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca and the K'abba), which she describes in meticulous detail.

Dr. Ahmed's heavy-handed and overblown writing style is this book's significant flaw. A couple examples:

The silence after the engine stopped engulfed us. Only the ticking of the slowly contracting metal under the hood punctuated the vapors of grief emanating from the house.
His alabaster skin was a blank canvas to blend with all cultures. His clear eyes (the bluest I had seen in Riyadh) concealed a safe of secrets to which I wanted the combination.
Fortunately, Dr. Ahmed's story is interesting and engaging enough to overcome the awkward language in which it's told.


Anonymous said...

It's too bad it's overwritten, because I think the topic could be really interesting.

Anonymous said...

I felt the same way about this book. Ahmed's story is very interesting, but the overly descriptive, occasionally melodramatic writing gets in the way. A more heavy-handed editor would have done the trick on this one.

Anonymous said...

For me, the examples of bad writing you gave would have been more than I could handle. To me, it requires more than an ability to slap words on the page (either in a slapdash or overwrought way) to be considered a writer, and certainly to produce a book that I am going to want to read. Reading stuff like Ahmed's prose makes me squirm with embarrassment for her... I had enough of that when I read "Reading Lolita in Tehran". Thanks for the heads up, I'll definitely avoid this one as well.

Stephanie said...

I read this. The writing did get tedious at some points (doctors just don't seem to be good writers), but I made it through because the subject matter interested me so much.

The thing that irritated me most about the book was how all her friends seemed to use her name constantly in conversation. Dialogues went something like this: "Qanta, it's so hard to be a woman in Saudi Arabia, Qanta. I don't have any freedom, Qanta. These men keep us down, Qanta. Don't you agree, Qanta?" Her name would appear two or three times in every paragraph her friends spoke. Very annoying.

amused bystander said...

I completely agree with Stephanie...the author constantly uses her name for some reason which sticks out awkwardly...and i hate her "It was time to had begun" and other melodramatic sentences...