I would have loved to visit this city, but when I saw girls walking on the sidewalk wearing short dresses and with bare legs, I was ashamed. If I had encountered them close up I would have spit on their path. They were charmuta and I thought it was disgusting. They were walking all alone, without parents next to them. I thought to myself that they would never be married. No man would ever ask for them because they had show their legs and they were made up with lipstick. And I didn't understand why they weren't locked in. Were these girls beaten the way I was? Locked up like me? Slaves like me? Did they work the way I did? I wasn't allowed to move an inch from my father's van. He supervised the unloading of the crates, collected the money, and then gave a sign, as if to a donkey, for me to climb in and hide myself inside, with the only pleasures being a moment without any work to do, and catching sight of the inaccessible boutiques through the crates of fruits and vegetables. I understand now that life in my village hasn't changed since my mother was born, and her mother before her, and still farther back.
Burned Alive is the true story of Souad, a Muslim woman's life before and after a brutal assault suffered at the hands of a family member. Souad lived in a small village in the West Bank with her family. Under her father's cruel hand and her culture's crueler customs, Souad comes to know a life of servitude, ignorance, and violence. After being seduced by a local boy who promises her marriage, Souad is horrified to learn she is pregnant. Even with her best efforts to conceal her state, the truth inevitably came out. Behind closed doors, to preserve the honor of their family, Souad's parents order a son-in-law to murder their pregnant daughter. The assailant's sense of duty was particularly sadistic, choosing to execute Souad by dousing her with gasoline and setting her on fire. She was 7 months pregnant. Finding herself horribly burned in a run-down hospital, Souad has not yet seen the worst of her family. Her mother's only visit is an attempt to poison her daughter and finish the job, stopped only by the chance entry of a nurse. The rest of the story follows Souad's life in Europe after rescue by a relief worker.
This book rocked my world. I've never read anything that so moved me on such a personal level. In short, this book made me misty-eyed. There isn't a single page that isn't dripping with pain. Even in the end, when Souad has her life back, there are still so many regrets and disappointments and injuries for her to fall back upon. Until the age of 20, Souad had no idea that life could be anything for a woman but labor, punishment, and childbirth. And I don't mean that in a figurative sense. She literally did not know that such things as options existed. That is how closeted and uneducated girls in Souad's village were kept. It was not an option for them to even think of living another way. That sort of mentality is so hard for me to wrap my mind around. Our cultures are so different that I'm not sure that I properly conceptualize what that lifestyle must be like.
You hear the stories in the news about how women are treated over in the Middle East and it always sounds deplorable. Reading this story, putting a face to the injustice, really amplifies my reaction to the whole thing. This woman is putting her story to paper 25 years after the attack, and she is still unable to give the name of her village. She still has to live in fear that if she names her village, there are those there that would hunt her down and finish her execution. There have been a number "honor killing" victims rescued, only to be later hunted down across oceans to be killed in a second attempt. This isn't the plot of a thriller or a slasher, this is what's happening in our world. Today.
What I found most interesting was Souad's relationship with her son, Marouan. Souad gave birth to Marouan two months premature in the hospital recovering from her burns. After leaving for Switzerland and living with a foster family for 4 years, Souad makes the difficult decision to allow her foster parents to adopt Marouan. Souda's guilt, shame, and confusion drip from every page describing her feelings about Marouan and his adoption. Their reconnection in the final pages is what moved me to tears. The love and affection born almost instantly after years of separation and ambiguity... Between two people who have shared a past that knew only pain and cruelty... I don't know. I couldn't see how you could end this book on a note bright enough to be seen amidst all the darkness, but that's exactly what they give you.
I really don't know what else to say about this book. The story is soul-wrenching, but I'm glad I read it. It's a very quick read and I think people owe it to themselves to read this book and hear her story.
SURGIR is a Swiss foundation that works with women, anywhere in the world, who are subjected to criminal traditions, women who are martyrs in their souls and in their bodies, and with the children of these women. SURGIR fights vigourously against the injustice of the customs that victimize these women.
Click here to support the work of SURGIR