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In the Land of Invisible Women (2008)

by Qanta Ahmed

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6508928,895 (3.66)71
"In this stunningly written book, a Western trained Muslim doctor brings alive what it means for a woman to live in the Saudi Kingdom. I've rarely experienced so vividly the shunning and shaming, racism and anti-Semitism, but the surprise is how Dr. Ahmed also finds tenderness at the tattered edges of extremism, and a life-changing pilgrimage back to her Muslim faith." - Gail Sheehy The decisions that change your life are often the most impulsive ones. Unexpectedly denied a visa to remain in the United States, Qanta Ahmed, a young British Muslim doctor, becomes an outcast in motion. On a whim, she accepts an exciting position in Saudi Arabia. This is not just a new job; this is a chance at adventure in an exotic land she thinks she understands, a place she hopes she will belong. What she discovers is vastly different. The Kingdom is a world apart, a land of unparralled contrast. She finds rejection and scorn in the places she believed would most embrace her, but also humor, honesty, loyalty and love. And for Qanta, more than anything, it is a land of opportunity. A place where she discovers what it takes for one woman to recreate herself in the land of invisible women.… (more)
  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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» See also 71 mentions

English (87)  Dutch (1)  All languages (88)
Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
A rare look behind the veil from a western-educated female Muslim doctor working in a Saudi hospital for two years. ( )
  dele2451 | Sep 27, 2019 |
Interesting most of the time to read about life in Saudi Arabia and about Mecca. But Qanta dwells too much on her feelings for the Saudi doctor (whose name I forget) and her fondness for big words is annoying. ( )
  siok | Oct 4, 2018 |
In one of the worst countries in the world for women, Pakistani Dr. Qanta discovers what's under the veil (lots of spirit and makeup) and what's in her heart (a newfound love of Islam). She takes a two year assignment at a hospital for royalty in Saudi Arabia, where, like all women, she is not permitted to leave her home without a abaya (full length robe), headscarf, and a male escort, and where Sharia law is strictly enforced.

Dr. Qanta makes a point of meeting other female medical professionals, both native and ex-pats, and comparing notes. She's roused by the strong feminism she finds but discouraged at the impossibly slow pace of change, and intimidated by the brutal religious police, who patrol even the female only areas and seem to also have the even Saudi royals running scared. And then there's the oil wealthy idle scions/dudebros who race their expensive sports cars down every street, killing themselves others in crashes with nary a regret or a penalty.

During her assignment, she falls in love with a Saudi doctor and makes the Hajj to Mecca twice. The passages on Hajj reminded me of the only other description of the solemn ritual I've ever read, that of Malcolm X in his autobiography. They both found incredible love and solidarity with other Muslims, but Dr. Qatar also is scorned by ultra conservative fellow female pilgrims, until she ministers to an ill woman who is one of the masses who cannot afford the luxury of a first class (complete with an air conditioned tent) pilgrimage experience.

In general, the doctor never encounters any poor Saudis, and in fact, does not seek out anyone like the Filipinas and Indonesian women who comprise the servant classes. This is a weakness in the narrative. Perhaps her position is that Saudi life is miserable enough for wealthy women - even with their luxury autos and goods - that there's no reason to meet anyone who'd make her feel even more, or less, privileged.

This is a valuable look at an awful place, swamped with the tribalism that seems forever married to Islam in a Wahhabi world. ( )
  froxgirl | May 10, 2018 |
"Unexpectedly denied a visa to remain in the United States, Qanta Ahmed, a
young British Muslim doctor, becomes an outcast in motion. On a whim, she
accepts an exciting position in Saudi Arabia. This is not just a new job; this
is a chance at adventure in an exotic land she things she understands, a place
she hopes she will belong. What she discovers is vastly different. The Kingdom
is a world apart, a land of unparalleled contrast. She finds rejection and
scorn in the places she believed would most embrace her, but also humor,
honesty, loyalty, and love. And for Qanta, more than anything, it is a land of
opportunity. A place where she discovers what it takes for one woman to
re-create herself in the land of invisible women." --back cover
  collectionmcc | Mar 6, 2018 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
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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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"In this stunningly written book, a Western trained Muslim doctor brings alive what it means for a woman to live in the Saudi Kingdom. I've rarely experienced so vividly the shunning and shaming, racism and anti-Semitism, but the surprise is how Dr. Ahmed also finds tenderness at the tattered edges of extremism, and a life-changing pilgrimage back to her Muslim faith." - Gail Sheehy The decisions that change your life are often the most impulsive ones. Unexpectedly denied a visa to remain in the United States, Qanta Ahmed, a young British Muslim doctor, becomes an outcast in motion. On a whim, she accepts an exciting position in Saudi Arabia. This is not just a new job; this is a chance at adventure in an exotic land she thinks she understands, a place she hopes she will belong. What she discovers is vastly different. The Kingdom is a world apart, a land of unparralled contrast. She finds rejection and scorn in the places she believed would most embrace her, but also humor, honesty, loyalty and love. And for Qanta, more than anything, it is a land of opportunity. A place where she discovers what it takes for one woman to recreate herself in the land of invisible women.

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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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