Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood by Fatima Mernissi
If you’re like me, the word “harem” is inherently fascinating. But if you’re like me, you’re thinking about some kind of sex palace with hundreds of hot chicks dressed like Princess Jasmine. In Dreams of Trespass, Mernissi is quick to distinguish between “imperial harems” (the sex palace with the Jasmines) and “domestic harems,” which are basically Islamic homes in which women are more or less permanently cloistered. Domestic harems haven’t captured the Western mind in quite the same way as their imperial counterparts, but as Mernissi reveals, they are plenty fascinating in their own right. I read Dreams of Trespass in college and it’s always stayed with me—so much that I wanted to re-read it for my first A Book From Every Country selection.
In this memoir, feminist writer and sociologist Fatima Mernissi describes what it is like to grow up in a home where, simply put, women cannot go outside. But this particular frontier is only the most obvious of the many that Mernissi must confront as she struggles to understand the social and religious forces that govern her young life. Don’t be thrown by the word “feminist”—while Mernissi’s critique is a given, this is no whiny sob story. Dreams of Trespass is a masterfully written exploration of both the merits and injustices of a complex world.
Story: Fascinating. Paints a vivid picture of a way of life that is almost unimaginable to a Western reader.
Writing: Just lovely.
Best thing about it: Knowing Mernissi eventually got out.
Worst thing about it: Knowing some of the others probably didn’t.