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The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism…
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The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism (2011)

by Deborah Baker

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While the letters written by Maryam were fascinating, the material between the letters was dragging.

I had just too many books out of the library and ran out of time. I will probably make another stab at this so am putting it back on the to-read shelf ( )
  Julie_loves_to_read | Mar 31, 2013 |
This book was supposed to be reveal why and how Margaret “Peggy” Marcus, in the mid 1960”s chose Islam as her faith, Maryam Jameelah as her name, and left her Jewish faith and New York to move to Pakistan to live the ideal Muslim faith. There she authored a number of articles and books about how the West and its culture was wrong. The book is a collection of her letters home and background on the Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi who becomes her guardian and is one of the founders of militant political Islam – Taliban. However, we never discover the real reason for the conversion, and more shockingly learn that the author changed the content of the letters so they would be more easily read. Left with the feeling that this was a troubled, unstable woman only. Disappointing. ( )
  CarterPJ | Oct 21, 2011 |
An intriguing memoir and would make for a lively discussion group pick. My review may be read on my book review blog Rundpinne: http://www.rundpinne.com/2011/08/book-review-the-convert-by-deborah-baker.html ( )
  knittingmomof3 | Aug 19, 2011 |
The subject matter of The Convert is absolutely fascinating. What causes someone to convert to Islam? Better yet, what causes a young woman to convert to Islam and then move to Pakistan? Unfortunately, Deborah Baker never truly answers these questions, and the execution of the subject matter falls flat.

While Ms. Baker uses Maryam's own correspondence, she admits to rewriting it or changing it to help the flow of her story. This, to me, fictionalizes the story and makes the entire concept more difficult to accept. Maryam never fully explains why she converted or why she felt compelled to become one of the most vitriolic, outspoken anti-American correspondents. Yet she admitted to withholding the truth in letters to her parents. Combine that with the alterations by Ms. Baker, and the reader quickly loses the sense of authenticity and truth that symbolizes a quality biography.

Ms. Baker does her best to make Maryam as sympathetic a person as possible, but here too she fails in her attempts. Maryam is utterly unsympathetic in her demeanor and righteousness. Her inability to even consider a world where the two cultures (Muslim versus any other) could coexist is simply unfathomable and rather scary. With her stints in various mental hospitals, one gets the impression that Maryam was a very miserable woman, and she put the blame for her existence on the United States. It is a difficult attitude to comprehend, but the fact that Ms. Baker is unable to truly explain it makes it worse.

While I was anxious to read The Convert, get a better understanding of the Muslim culture and understand what would prompt a woman to convert, I was ultimately left with as many questions with which I started. Maryam's words, not matter how altered, left a bitter aftertaste, and I was horrified at her inflexibility and intractability. She justified her behavior and attitudes with a sense of morality that was uncompromising and harsh. The Convert is the type of novel that removes any sense of hope that the two cultures will ever be able to get along, which, given the unending nature of the conflicts in the Middle East, is not the right message for this day and age.

Thank you to Graywolf Press for my reading copy.
  jmchshannon | Jun 23, 2011 |
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Epigraph
"If a man passes a door which has no curtain and is not shut and looks in, he has committed no sin." -Mishkah al-Masabih
"Whoever undertakes t owrite a biography binds himself to lying, to concealment, to hypocrisy, to flummery." -Sigmund Freud
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For My Parents
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Dear Maryam Jameelah,

Asalaam-o-aleikum wa Rahmatullah!
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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What drives a young woman raised in a postwar New York City suburb to convert to Islam, abandon her country and Jewish faith, and embrace a life of exile in Pakistan? The convert tells the story of how Margaret Marcus of Larchmont became Maryam Jameelah of Lahore, one of the most trenchant and celebrated voices of Islam's argument with the West.… (more)

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