Monday, January 19, 2009

Burned Alive by Souad

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

22 comments:

Amanda said...

It's amazing to see what some people go through, but it's also important to realize that this isn't the situation for every woman on the West Bank or in the Muslim world. My sister has lived on the West Bank for nearly two years now. She's married to a Palestinian, has moved all around the area, and knows tons of Muslim families. Honor killings of this sort are, by most people, looked down on, considered Haram. My sister knew a man, ate at his house with his wife and daughters, only to discover that he had killed one of his other daughters in an honor killing. Ironically, his was the only Christian family she knew of in that city, not Muslim at all.

Honor killings are a horrible thing no matter what area of the world or religion brings them on. This sounds like an interesting and heart-wrenching book. I'm adding it to my tbr list.

Brooke said...

Thank you for this review. I'm with Amanda--I feel like this is a book that I need to read.

Amanda said...

I was doing some research on this book later, trying to find what language it was published in originally, and came across a bunch of controversy related to it. Apparently, there are people out there who doubt this is a true story. There are facts within the book that make no sense - geographical errors, time period errors, medical errors, etc. I'm not saying it's not true, but it'll be interesting to read knowing that there is this controversy, and that different translations of the book report different facts (baby born at six or seven months, what percentage of her body burned, etc). One of the more thorough articles I read, if you're interested, was here: http://www.antiwar.com/orig/ttaylor.php?articleid=5801

Jim said...

Yeah I read the same article. Frankly none of its claims struck me as being any more logical than the story itself.

The woman writing about her life 25 years ago messed up some directions? I dont know. I don't think any of the allegations made in the article have any effect on the message of the book.

Amanda said...

I don't know. Having been to the West Bank and such, some of the things struck me as odd, like for instance the stuff about living near Tel Aviv, which is of course no where near the West Bank. I'll have to read it and see what I think, but I admit, with the facts in that article and my own knowledge about the area, I'm skeptical.

Nihil Novum said...

Amanda,

No offense intended, but your comments seem like you're defending the general at the expense of marginalizing the specific. In regards to this book (if it is true), it makes no difference whether 99.99999 percent of Muslims are the kindest people in the world. The book is not about that percentage. it's about the crazy religious wackos this girl grew up with.

I think everyone reading this blog realizes that the majority of Muslims (or any religious group) are not violent psychopaths. Nothing in this review indicates that Jim thinks all Muslims are like the ones described in this book, so I confess, I don't really see the point of defending Muslims in general since Muslims in general are not under attack.

Cheery-a

Carlton Farmer said...

Nice review, Jim. A belated welcome to 50 Books.

Amanda said...

I'm sorry if my comments sounded like I was accusing Jim or anyone else who writes for this blog of thinking the whole Muslim world is like this. I wasn't trying to. I thought this was a very good review, and not biased at all.

I'm a little sensitive to books/reviews that depict Muslim culture, because I've seen on a lot of other book blogs reviews that are just as unbiased, but then a lot of random passerby-commenters stating things like "this book shows just how bad the Muslim world is." It happens too often. My brother-in-law is Palestinian, and I've spent time in the Middle East, so I guess I'm probably a bit oversensitive to the discrimination Palestinians receive. I'm sorry if I sounded like a harpee. I wasn't trying to accuse anyone here of being prejudiced.

Nihil Novum said...

Fair enough. I didn't figure you were.

Jim said...

I wonder if I write a review on a book about abortion or the holocaust... if I could get you all riled up enough to fist-fight.

My money's on Steak-ums.

Jim said...

And back to the article, even if all the facts are wrong because she fabricated the entire narrative... It doesn't change the fact that these things DO happen today and people need to hear about it.

Amanda said...

"even if all the facts are wrong because she fabricated the entire narrative... It doesn't change the fact that these things DO happen today and people need to hear about it."

I agree. There are a couple other books I've heard about that are supposed to be good on the subject. Ellen Sheeley's Reclaiming Honor in Jordan, and Karen Tintori's Unto the Daughters: The Legacy of an Honor Killing in a Sicilian-American Family.

Christopher said...

Steakums is gonna bring the hurt.

Nihil Novum said...

We have a fistfight every year at the annual 50 Book Project convention. If more than one person shows up, that is.

Nathan said...

Wow, this book sounds powerful. It's humbling to hear about the horror that so many go through, and that I know nothing about. I'll have to read this.

And I lived with Chris long enough to know that his right hook is a thing of earth-shattering glory.

Christopher said...

earth don't fuck with me none

Anonymous said...

i am a studen at highschool and stubled up on this book by a school project. i thought it would have been another boring read but it wasnt . to be honest it is the most touching book i have ever read

Anonymous said...

This book was very moving to me, I loved it. I think their religion is fine, but I think honor crimes are horrific. If I were asked to kill a sibling because of an incident that could be fixed I would say "NO", and in my opinion I think you should too. but if you don't you should think about how God will look upon you when you die. You should say to yourself " Is this something I want go through with." But if you've heard of an honor crime you you shold look down in pitty on who did it. And I believe if you know the person who told the killer to kill I think he/she should be executed, and if you do not agree that is okay. But if I were to sum this up I would say, "Honor crimes are horrible!!!"

Anonymous said...

I've actually read this book. Im 18 years and it really opened up my eyes to how blessed we are. It really shows the strength that we have both as women and as people. I would recommend this book to anyone willing to read it. It's really good.

Lucy said...

Thank you for sharing your story, its sad to think there are people in our world like that and that they can treat and do anything they like.
I found it hard to put this book down as it was so interesting to see how and what happened to you.
Im most pleased to see that you were saved and that you moved on in your life,
by the sounds of things not only are you married and have 3 wonderful children but to see that you are also enducated.
and i also hope that your story dose made its way some how to the West Bank more so to the village you are from,.
Once again Souad thank you for sharing your story!

Therese said...

The book is a fake.

Read "Burning Questions – Review Debunks Honor-Crime Memoir."

Susu Chin said...

It is not the first time I heard stories like that about miserable women, I have ever watched a programme - a documentary film. Anyway it had happened somewhere - I believe...