In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta A. Ahmed

In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi KingdomIn the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom by Qanta A. Ahmed

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The writing ranges from indifferent to awkward, but that is not the only reason I rate this books as merely “ok”. It had the potential to be so much more than it is.

Dr. Qanta A. Ahmed is capable of close observation–no critical care physician can lack this ability–and some of her descriptions are very closely observed, indeed. It is a shame that these are mostly limited to the physical appearance of the people she meets and of their clothing, homes and cars.

Yet we cannot call Ahmed shallow because the religious experience she underwent in the Kingdom was clearly deeply felt. I am disappointed that she did not spend more time exploring it and less time looking for well-worn metaphors to describe it.

The main problem with In the Land of Invisible Women, in my opinion, is that it never quite seems to decide what kind of book it is. Is it the description of the author’s religious itinerary? Then why leave that almost exclusively to the section on her Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca)? Is it the story of a Western-trained double-boarded physician who happens to be a woman practicing in the very different and restrictive conditions experienced by female physicians in the Kingdom? Then tell us more about that.

Is this a book about Saudi culture? Then spend less time on describing cars, jewelry and clothing and more time on behavior, attitudes, laws and social expectations. Is it a book about the history of Wahabi extremism in Saudia? Then write it as a history and don’t try to squeeze it in as background in artificial-sounding conversations.

The main problem I found with this book is its lack of focus. There is so much potential here for a riveting memoir or a fascinating analysis. Ahmed sold herself short by taking the easy way out.

This book will be particularly interesting to people with little or no knowledge of Islam, people who don’t know many Muslims. Think of it as a long, chatty letter from the friend of a friend and you won’t be as disappointed as I was.

Not a bad book, just not as good as it might have been.

Visit my Goodreads page.

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2 thoughts on “In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta A. Ahmed

    • Since writing this, I had a conversation with a friend who gave it a much higher rating than I did. We concluded it was because it is geared more toward people who do not know many (any?) Muslims and know little about Islam. Living in a region where Islam is predominant and having known and worked with many Muslims, my reaction was a bit more reticent.

      It’s a good book. 🙂

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