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In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta…
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In the Land of Invisible Women (2008)

by Qanta Ahmed

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5288719,108 (3.66)59
  1. 10
    Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson (Mrs.Stansbury)
    Mrs.Stansbury: Each book glimpses life behind the veils of women in Saudi Arabia and reveals unique views and different perspectives. If you enjoy one you'll enjoy the other.
  2. 10
    In Her own Words: Oral histories of Women Physicians by Regina Markell Morantz (pensivepoet)
  3. 00
    Paramedic to the Prince: An American Paramedic's Account of Life Inside the Mysterious World of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by Patrick (Tom) Notestine (meggyweg)
  4. 00
    Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks (krazy4katz)
    krazy4katz: Both books are well written and describe how women cope under Islamic law. Some of the details are surprising. The difference between the 2 authors is that Qanta Ahmed is a western-educated muslim trained as a physician. I think she has a somewhat more intimate perspective on the women she meets compared to Geraldine Brooks. However, both books are very good.… (more)
  5. 01
    Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital by Heidi Squier Kraft (infiniteletters)
    infiniteletters: Contrasting cultures, but similar medical perspectives. Do no harm.
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Quanta Ahmed is a British-born Muslim woman who considers herself a New Yorker. She accepts a two-year position as an ICU physician in a Saudi Arabian hospital in 1999-2000. Her first task is to purchase an abbayah, the head-to-toe covering she will wear every time she steps outside her home or the hospital she works in. Despite the western educations of many of her colleagues, the sexism and religious extremism she experiences are shocking. As an American it's hard to comprehend a society where men won't look a woman in the eye or shake her hand. Women are not allowed to drive, be in the company of a man not their husbands, rent a hotel room, or travel outside the country without the consent of a male family member. Somehow despite the repression and disrespect, she is able to strengthen her Muslim faith. While the insight into such a different society was fascinating, I found it hard to understand how she could remain friends with those who revealed themselves not only as sexist, but also outspokenly racist. ( )
  LeslieHurd | Jan 11, 2017 |
You know, I really, really wanted to love this book. It starts with Dr. Ahmed treating a woman in a hospital in Saudi Arabia who is covered head to toe in traditional garb, with her son hovering in the background. I thought, Oh, wow, how exciting! What did she think about how women are treated in daily life? What other patients did she treat that were in similar circumstances, and what where her thoughts about them?" But you know, after that first insight into her new world, and a wonderful description about her trip over to Saudi Arabia and her initial settling in, the book fell into a set of unlinked vignettes about different incidents she lived and different people she encountered.

The lead-up in the first few paragraphs of a chapter would start a story, then the rest of the pages would go into great detail about the social and political situation in Saudi Arabia, then the narrative would wrap up with her thoughts about it in the last paragraph or two. On the surface, this does sound like what I was wanting to get out of the book, doesn't it? But it felt especially disjointed - here we have a night in a restaurant with a group of colleagues that turns into a terrifying encounter with a group of the Mutawaeen, the authoritarian clerics-cum-police who harass men and women for any unorthodox behaviors or improper wearing of the abbayah, the traditional robed dress of women in Saudi Arabia (the chapter entitled "Wahabi Wrath," pp. 229-248). But the conversations sound contrived (I know, she's probably trying to recreate the scenes from that night), and after the dramatic raid on the restaurant by the Mutawaeen, Dr. Ahmed goes into such detail about the backstory of the Mutawaeen's rise to authoritarian power that the dramatic impact of the scene in the restaurant kind of fades into the background.

In addition, the amount of space/pages she gives to her remarkable first journey to Mecca on her Hajj is almost excessive. I'm thrilled that she was able to go onto her religious pilgrimage - it really tied together the many threads of Islam for her and was an amazing spiritual and religious experience - just so overly detailed. I know, I'm probably being unfair to a brilliant doctor who took the time to note her phenomenal experiences in the home of Islam, but with a little more editing and structure, I think this book could have been a much better read.

Perhaps the history and background of the current Saudi Arabian culture could have been the first third of the book, followed by the different vignettes? And to have some sense of a timeline - perhaps the chapter sequence is supposed to mean that first she met with the Saudi women who dance alone (Chapter 6), then she dealt with a father's grieving (Chapter 9), but the incidents/events do not have any tie-in to one another so I found no sense of continuity. But I will say, her observations of the people around her were top-notch and that is the area in which her book shines." ( )
  threadnsong | Jun 18, 2016 |
You know, I really, really wanted to love this book. It starts with Dr. Ahmed treating a woman in a hospital in Saudi Arabia who is covered head to toe in traditional garb, with her son hovering in the background. I thought, Oh, wow, how exciting! What did she think about how women are treated in daily life? What other patients did she treat that were in similar circumstances, and what where her thoughts about them?" But you know, after that first insight into her new world, and a wonderful description about her trip over to Saudi Arabia and her initial settling in, the book fell into a set of unlinked vignettes about different incidents she lived and different people she encountered.

The lead-up in the first few paragraphs of a chapter would start a story, then the rest of the pages would go into great detail about the social and political situation in Saudi Arabia, then the narrative would wrap up with her thoughts about it in the last paragraph or two. On the surface, this does sound like what I was wanting to get out of the book, doesn't it? But it felt especially disjointed - here we have a night in a restaurant with a group of colleagues that turns into a terrifying encounter with a group of the Mutawaeen, the authoritarian clerics-cum-police who harass men and women for any unorthodox behaviors or improper wearing of the abbayah, the traditional robed dress of women in Saudi Arabia (the chapter entitled "Wahabi Wrath," pp. 229-248). But the conversations sound contrived (I know, she's probably trying to recreate the scenes from that night), and after the dramatic raid on the restaurant by the Mutawaeen, Dr. Ahmed goes into such detail about the backstory of the Mutawaeen's rise to authoritarian power that the dramatic impact of the scene in the restaurant kind of fades into the background.

In addition, the amount of space/pages she gives to her remarkable first journey to Mecca on her Hajj is almost excessive. I'm thrilled that she was able to go onto her religious pilgrimage - it really tied together the many threads of Islam for her and was an amazing spiritual and religious experience - just so overly detailed. I know, I'm probably being unfair to a brilliant doctor who took the time to note her phenomenal experiences in the home of Islam, but with a little more editing and structure, I think this book could have been a much better read.

Perhaps the history and background of the current Saudi Arabian culture could have been the first third of the book, followed by the different vignettes? And to have some sense of a timeline - perhaps the chapter sequence is supposed to mean that first she met with the Saudi women who dance alone (Chapter 6), then she dealt with a father's grieving (Chapter 9), but the incidents/events do not have any tie-in to one another so I found no sense of continuity. But I will say, her observations of the people around her were top-notch and that is the area in which her book shines." ( )
  cctest01 | Jun 15, 2016 |
Dr. Ahmed, a British-born Muslim, takes a job in Saudi Arabia. For two years, she struggles with the extreme sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia she encounters there. Simultaneously, she has several intense religious experiences, and seeks to reconcile the two. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Dr. Ahmed's personal account of her time spent working in Saudi Arabia has a fascinating premise and a lot of potential. However, I was disappointed by her execution.

The book begins well with a retelling of her decision to work in Saudi Arabia and her first impressions of professional and social life there. The writing is engaging, but often uneven. For someone who is often describing how shocked she is by what she sees as narrow-mindedness and prejudice among the men she works with, she herself betrays a lot of condescension and judgment toward some of the Saudi people, based purely on external first impressions.

Quite early in the book, Dr. Ahmed takes a long detour to discuss her rediscovery of her religion by detailing her participation in the rites of the Hajj. This part of the content seemed at odds with the description on the book jacket, but I found the topic interesting; however, Dr. Ahmed's treatment of this subject was not consistent with the rest of the book. Whereas in other spheres of Saudi life, she viewed the local ways from a Western perspective and was very willing to question them, when it came to Islam, she quickly abandoned her relatively Westernized and secular approach to the religion and accepted the fundamentalist practices as the correct ones. She describes a scene during the Hajj in which several Saudi women are reprimanding her for her way of praying and giving her minute corrections, and how her initial confusion and annoyance gives way to gratitude for the women's willingness to teach her about the correct way of practicing her religion. I think many readers would have found a more nuanced treatment of Saudi Islam to be enlightening, but it seems that Dr. Ahmed, while rebelling against most of the social rules of Saudi society (which are based on fundamentalist Islam), fully accepted Saudi Islam itself. To me, it seemed rather illogical.

As someone who enjoys words, I was often irritated by a kind of pretentious misuse of them in Dr. Ahmed's book. Obviously, Dr. Ahmed is highly educated in her professional field, but she constantly aims to use more sophisticated language than is in keeping with the rest of her narrative, and quite often does so awkwardly or incorrectly. There were many cases which I found jarring, and in flipping quickly through the pages, I found these:
- "checked-in under anonymous names" (p. 263)
- "Expatriates teemed the lobbies"
- "I scrabbled to formulate a plan" (p. 271)

This might not be so important to some readers, but what irked me about this misuse of language is that Qanta frequently emphasizes her high level of education and sophistication and contrasts it with those of many Saudis. Her imperfect command of written language belies her portrayal of herself and makes me mistrust the truthfulness of other aspects of her book. ( )
  teaholic | Dec 1, 2015 |
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For my parents, who gave me my Islam and my love of words.

And for Joan Kirschenbaum Cohn, who shows me how to live, as a better woman, as a better Muslim.
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Seeking respite from the intensity of medicine, I trained my eye on the world without.
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Book description
When unexpectedly denied a visa to remain in the United States, Dr. Qanta Ahmed, a British born Muslim woman, made the decision to spend two years working in one of the finest hospitals in the world, located in Riyadh. Her first non-fiction book, In the Land of Invisible Women, (Sept 2, 2008) is a memoir that recounts her startling experiences while practicing medicine in the Saudi Kingdom. Fascinating and revelatory, Qanta provides a telling picture of what life is truly like in the Saudi Kingdom, from a unique perspective. She describes:

* How hospital patients reportedly clapped when the planes slammed into the twin towers on 9/11
* How men and women find marriage partners in a society that allows no dating and physical contact, and where they flee to have affairs
* How Saudi women who are supported by advanced thinking parents and who must wear abbayas with their bodies fully encased are able to defy the Saudi's oppressive rules and mores to become physicians
* How she worked side-by-side with Wahabi scholars and physicians who seemed to shun her even in clinical contact
* Why the religious police are so threatening and dangerous
* How a father grieves
* As well as encounters with sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, sycophancy

And she evokes, too, the moments where she finds tenderness and beauty when she would least expect it. And finally, she goes on a Hajj, a journey to Mecca with 2.5 million other Muslims, a privilege required by every able-bodied Muslim in his or her lifetime. For her, it becomes a life-changing moment that inspires and sanctifies her commitment to the Muslim faith.
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"This memoir is a journey into a complex world readers will find fascinating and at times repugnant. After being denied a visa to remain in the U.S., British-born Ahmed, a Muslim woman of Pakistani origin, takes advantage of an opportunity, before 9/11, to practice medicine in Saudi Arabia. She discovers her new environment is defined by schizophrenic contrasts that create an absurd clamorous clash of modern and medieval... It never became less arresting to behold. Ahmed's introduction to her new environment is shocking. Her first patient is an elderly Bedouin woman. Though naked on the operating table, she still is required by custom to have her face concealed with a veil under which numerous hoses snake their way to hissing machines. Everyday life is laced with bizarre situations created by the rabid puritanical orthodoxy that among other requirements forbids women to wear seat belts because it results in their breasts being more defined, and oppresses Saudi men as much as women by its archaic rules. At times the narrative is burdened with Ahmed's descriptions of the physical characteristics of individuals and the luxurious adornments of their homes but this minor flaw is easily overlooked in exchange for the intimate introduction to a world most readers will never know" -- Publishers Weekly.… (more)

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