A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Malika lives in a town in Libya in the late nineteenth century. Women stay in the houses and on the rooftops, while men are free to walk the streets. As her brother goes out and begins working, and her merchant father sets out on another long trading journey, Malika feels increasingly imprisoned by her circumscribed life, in which she is not even permitted to learn to read and write, but knows she will be married off soon.
When her father's second wife rescues a wounded man being chased by a mob, she puts the whole family in danger. Hiding him in the house where there are women is strictly forbidden. But Malika is glad, because he begins teaching her how to read.
Is it any good?
In this somewhat uneven story, plot and character are strictly secondary to the author's two purposes: giving a portrait of Muslim female life, and disapproving of it. The vivid picture of that life is fascinating: the rooftop culture and travel routes, the painted gardens, the careful relations between the two wives of one man. The pictures of places and activities are far more compelling than the wan plot and washed out characters.
But the author puts into the minds and mouths of the characters ideas from Western culture that don't belong there: that women should have more freedom, that their lives are unfair, that their culture and religion are wrong-headed. At a time when building understanding between cultures is more important than ever, encouraging young readers to judge another culture by the standards of their own doesn't seem very helpful.