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Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS

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An account of thirteen women who joined, endured, and, in some cases, escaped life in the Islamic State—based on years of immersive reporting by a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Among the many books trying to understand the terrifying rise of ISIS, none has given voice to the women in the organization; but women were essential to the establishment of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's caliph An account of thirteen women who joined, endured, and, in some cases, escaped life in the Islamic State—based on years of immersive reporting by a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Among the many books trying to understand the terrifying rise of ISIS, none has given voice to the women in the organization; but women were essential to the establishment of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's caliphate. Responding to promises of female empowerment and social justice, and calls to aid the plight of fellow Muslims in Syria, thousands of women emigrated from the United States and Europe, Russia and Central Asia, from across North Africa and the rest of the Middle East to join the Islamic State. These were the educated daughters of the middle-class as well as working-class drifters and desolate housewives, and they set up makeshift clinics and schools for the Islamic homeland they envisioned. Guest House for Young Widows charts the different ways women were recruited, inspired, or compelled to join the militants and how all found rebellion or community in political Islam. It wasn't long before the militants exposed themselves as little more than violent criminals, more obsessed with power than the tenets of Islam, and the women of ISIS were stripped of any agency, perpetually widowed and remarried, and ultimately trapped in a brutal, lawless society. The fall of the caliphate only brought new challenges to women no state wanted to reclaim.


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An account of thirteen women who joined, endured, and, in some cases, escaped life in the Islamic State—based on years of immersive reporting by a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Among the many books trying to understand the terrifying rise of ISIS, none has given voice to the women in the organization; but women were essential to the establishment of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's caliph An account of thirteen women who joined, endured, and, in some cases, escaped life in the Islamic State—based on years of immersive reporting by a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Among the many books trying to understand the terrifying rise of ISIS, none has given voice to the women in the organization; but women were essential to the establishment of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's caliphate. Responding to promises of female empowerment and social justice, and calls to aid the plight of fellow Muslims in Syria, thousands of women emigrated from the United States and Europe, Russia and Central Asia, from across North Africa and the rest of the Middle East to join the Islamic State. These were the educated daughters of the middle-class as well as working-class drifters and desolate housewives, and they set up makeshift clinics and schools for the Islamic homeland they envisioned. Guest House for Young Widows charts the different ways women were recruited, inspired, or compelled to join the militants and how all found rebellion or community in political Islam. It wasn't long before the militants exposed themselves as little more than violent criminals, more obsessed with power than the tenets of Islam, and the women of ISIS were stripped of any agency, perpetually widowed and remarried, and ultimately trapped in a brutal, lawless society. The fall of the caliphate only brought new challenges to women no state wanted to reclaim.

30 review for Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS

  1. 5 out of 5

    Petra-X

    Good points: great title and the author writes well. But she writes from the point of view of extreme negativity towards America and Israel. The author loses no opportunity to display her hatred of Israel and exaggerates when it suits her agenda and is likely to gain more sympathy for her subjects. At the root of it, she says, Muslims are "increasingly aggravated" by what they see as pressure for them to integrate: Britain's core national identity was enshrined in gender liberalism, women's physic Good points: great title and the author writes well. But she writes from the point of view of extreme negativity towards America and Israel. The author loses no opportunity to display her hatred of Israel and exaggerates when it suits her agenda and is likely to gain more sympathy for her subjects. At the root of it, she says, Muslims are "increasingly aggravated" by what they see as pressure for them to integrate: Britain's core national identity was enshrined in gender liberalism, women's physical visibility, an acceptance of homosexuality and UK foreign policy, especially respect for Israel" Israel? That doesn't seem to be at the core of any British values and there are a lot of people who certainly don't respect it (but with words, not violence). So these 'aggravated' young women want to live in a society where they would forever willing be the lesser gender always subject to male control as enshrined in their religion and sharia law. Where women willingly will want to wear head to toe black shrouds, where they will celebrate the murder of homosexuals since it will be a crime punishable by death and honour killings for wives and daughters who step out of any line the men decide on, will be tolerated if not celebrated and Israel, well let's not go into that. These young women want that instead of our values and are willing to fight for them. I believe when in Rome do as the Romans do and the author thinks it is wrongful pressure to expect people to integrate into the society they have chosen to live in. If you despise a place so much it constantly aggravates you and you cannot adjust to it, then go to another country where you can live by your own core values. So that is what is presented to the girls, just that. They think they will be helping to forge a new world order, the Caliphate which would supercede the evil empire of the West (that's us). This would be an ideal community based on Islam and where they, as women, would have a voice (when their male 'owners' allowed it) and be free to cover their faces without censure. And they wouldn't have to face more moderate Muslims who didn't approve of fundamentalism either. According to the author, these girls in the UK, Germany everywhere in Europe really, face the "noise of Islamophobia" every day, and those that didn't run away have to live in it. (Really, it's that bad? So why do more and more middle-eastern and African Muslims, legal and illegal want to come to Europe so badly? Why not another Muslim country instead?) And then they found themselves the wives of terrorists who didn't respect them, then the widows, then they were wives again and so on. And now that ISIS has lost, they don't like their sad lives, Excuse me? They only saw the pure ideals of ISIS, their recruitment propaganda was quite different than that aimed at the men? They really didn't see what the men saw that made them join ISIS and enthusiastically participate in the most extreme terrorism? They didn't see those videos of kidnappings, beheading, burning alive, throwing gay men off buildings, mass executions of rows of men shot one after the other, those Facebook recruitment posts, the news on the tv, the capture and selling of the Yazidi girls as sex slaves (after Yazidi men and boys had been murdered. We all saw that, how come they didn't? They saw it all right, they wanted in, that's why they went and joined ISIS and wore their burkhas and carried their machine guns. Now the dream of the Caliphate has gone and we are supposed to feel sorry for these women and their supposedly unwitting adventure into terrorism. And now in the news, they are sorry, they've seen the light, and they want to come 'home'. Would they have felt like that if ISIS hadn't been defeated? I don't think so. DNF. Read Ayaan Hirsi Ali instead. And people should look up history. When the British Mandate in Palestine ended, the land was divided 70% to Transjordania renamed Jordan and 30% to Israel. Where are all the demands for the return of the 70%, why have they accepted that Jordan is ok, but not Israel? The answer to that one is blindingly obvious. On trolls and passive-aggressive friends (view spoiler)[Goodreads removed a comment (see below). which was a personal attack on me, not just on this review but on how I used GR. and what sort of person I was. Funny thing is that one of my friends, Majenta, was the only person to have liked this comment. Why would anyone who says they are a friend do this? Weird. This is about the comment. I have a troll who has pointed out to me that essentially not approving of these girls/terrorists and ISIS makes me a bigot. Oh really. That makes him/her a person who approves of murdering gays, thinks it is right women shouldn't not have personal autonomy, wear what they like, have boyfriends and sex if they want to, choose their own marriage partners, behead, torture, burn, bomb and kill anyone who doesn't approve of ISIS brand of Islam (especially other Muslims), subscribes to the idea that terrorism against America and the West and anyone who supports Israel is not just a good thing but a holy one that will earn a reward in heaven. But he is not a bigot. Right? I expect the troll will pop up under various names with insults for a few months at least. They usually do, they seem to think that their rage that consumes them will translate into an equally powerful hurt to me. It doesn't. I either just delete them or use them to write something, like this. (hide spoiler)]

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    ISIS, Syria. They came from everywhere, Libya, Tunisia, Great Britain Germany, these young women came to join a new group that was supposedly creating a new state, a state where being Muslim was accepted, the true and honest way. Why did they come, traveling so far into an unknown future? For a variety of reasons. Some to follow a loved one, some like the Puritans who left England, came for the right to worship their religion in their own way. Some came from radicalization from social media, som ISIS, Syria. They came from everywhere, Libya, Tunisia, Great Britain Germany, these young women came to join a new group that was supposedly creating a new state, a state where being Muslim was accepted, the true and honest way. Why did they come, traveling so far into an unknown future? For a variety of reasons. Some to follow a loved one, some like the Puritans who left England, came for the right to worship their religion in their own way. Some came from radicalization from social media, some from message in their own mosques, some in anger at the Wests treatment . Some were highly educated, some just idealistic, some thought they were striving for a better future, most ended up disillusioned as what started out idealistic, turned to violence and terror. Following several of these women, the author details their fate, the heartbreak of the families they left behind, and the girls reasons for leaving and what instead they found. Syria, has been much in the news lately, and as I hope many have by now realized, the media only prints or shows the terror, but not what led them to this point, never is the whole story disclosed, until now. This book show the how and why we have gotten to where we are now, with ISIS currently defeated, but now with the US withdrawal from Syria, maybe not down and out. Only time will tell. While the author shows compassion for some of these women, she is also brutally honest, even at times critical. Like those who were indoctrinated into cults, so too were these same tactics used by ISIS. What will happen to these girls, yes many are still teenagers, women is still to be told. Now held in camps, their home country's evoking their citizenship, not wanting any of the former ISIS fighters or women back. A terrific book if one wants to know exactly what is happening and what went so wrong and why. ARC from Netgalley.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paige

    This work is as described: the stories of thirteen women from various countries and backgrounds who become women of ISIS. Their heart-wrenching accounts attest the weight on Muslim feminism and gender conflicts. Each with their own story, this book explains the series of events that attracted them to ISIS. The powerful voices of these women not only expose their decisions that led them to ISIS but also reveal the undeniable reality that their choice to join was not always just black and white, A This work is as described: the stories of thirteen women from various countries and backgrounds who become women of ISIS. Their heart-wrenching accounts attest the weight on Muslim feminism and gender conflicts. Each with their own story, this book explains the series of events that attracted them to ISIS. The powerful voices of these women not only expose their decisions that led them to ISIS but also reveal the undeniable reality that their choice to join was not always just black and white, A or B. The chronicles of these women do unveil the political and religious propaganda embroiled, but it also exploits the increasing involvement and pressure of social media that affected many who joined. Chapters alternate between these women, and each story is told in a linear format. At times the author interjects in the middle of a story to afford historical context to their situations, and I found this helpful but at times disrupting to the women’s story that was being presented. There are additional 1-2 page segments that are implanted outside of these chapters (located between the chapters of the women's stories, since it is not directly linked to the women) to provide context to the timeline in regards to important events that are transpiring outside of these women’s lives; for example, in 2015 when a Jordan pilot is captured and ISIS releases the video of him burning alive. This was a 3.5 star for me, rounded up. It seemed to follow an expository format at times, so I felt misguided at various intervals considering this as nonfiction material. Throughout the better last half of this book, the facts and information are often used to promote an opinion or idea. It still would have been instructive and emotionally captivating without these speculative assessments. Also, the last part of the book (Part V), felt rushed and left me without closure on the collapse of the caliphate, making the conclusion of the women’s stories left unsettled. Since it follows the story of thirteen individuals, it was at times hard to keep the characters straight when picking up the book after putting it down. At 50% of the book, there was still a new woman being introduced. Sometimes it felt like pieces of the puzzle were missing, especially to various regions and the politics evolving. Significant events involved, but not limited to: Arab Spring (2011 Arab Uprising), The Syrian Three, 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the al-Qaeda narrative, Raqqa under Assad, Sarah Khan’s campaign, 2012 Ghouta gas attack, the Nusra Front, 1982 Hama rebellion, 2011 Syrian Civil War Many thanks to Random House, NetGalley, and Azadeh Moaveni for this advanced copy in exchange for my honest review. Overall, an enlightening read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    The strength of this book is the women – the portraits of their lives before, during and after their time with ISIS. Yes, there are “guest houses for widows" but, despite the title, they only get a mention in this book.. The author’s interest was piqued through reports of 4 seemingly typical teen-aged girls who made secret plans and left their East London homes to join ISIS. They are profiled along with other women from England, Germany, and Tunisia who also left home for ISIS and women who live The strength of this book is the women – the portraits of their lives before, during and after their time with ISIS. Yes, there are “guest houses for widows" but, despite the title, they only get a mention in this book.. The author’s interest was piqued through reports of 4 seemingly typical teen-aged girls who made secret plans and left their East London homes to join ISIS. They are profiled along with other women from England, Germany, and Tunisia who also left home for ISIS and women who lived in Raqqa and had no choice when ISIS took over. There are interviews of women in a refugee camp and a “guest house”. Because this is arranged by the time line the biographies are broken up such that unless your memory is good you will need to flip back and forth. This arrangement and some of the introductions about the political events (not all of them relevant to the individual story) made the book difficult to follow. Since there is no index, a few review facts for each bio-revisit would have been helpful (i.e. Dunya … Germany…. Selim..) The author has a point of view. It is understandable that having met these women, she is sympathetic to them. She, like her subjects, rationalizes their decision to join the movement. She shows how Islamophobia (stoked by the British press), Tunisia’s enforcement of its ban on covering, poverty, girls expected to be at home, and persuasive advocates in person and on the internet entered into their decision to leave home for ISIS. She shows the devastation of the parents. Olfa, a single mother of two daughters who left (one died in Syria), and an Ethiopian father were particularly hard hit. I would have liked more description of the life in Syria. For those without children to raise - what did the women do with their time? How did these women feel about living in the homes that were vacated by people who fled the violence perpetrated by their ‘husbands”? It seems like they were being used more like the “comfort women” of WWII than wives (especially the pressure to "marry" another ISIS member after a husband is killed in battle); how did these women feel about this? Did they practice birth control? Caning or stoning occurred, did everyone know about this, and for those who knew, how did they feel about it? How did they acquire everything from food to feminine needs? An unsuccessful escape attempt had serious consequences and a successful return home could have consequences too. ISIS Was brutal on those caught escaping. Depending on the country’s anti-terrorism laws, returnees can spend time in prison. One of the women, Nour, faced interrogation which seemed intense and extreme. It only ended when her parents paid a bribe. The author’s conclusion is wordy, but essentially says that Islamic countries should be less authoritarian and European countries should do more for the immigrants who seek refuge there. Because "Guest Houses.." covers 13 women it can only give portions of their (and their family's) experience. For more in depth focus on how one type of recruitment (in person persuasion) worked and the response of parents see Two Sisters: A Father, His Daughters, and Their Journey into the Syrian Jihad). If you read this book, I highly advise that you take notes so when the women recur you remember who is who.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rincey

    3.5 stars - The author does a great job of showing how and why these women would choose to leave their families behind and become radicalized I read this for round 1 of the booktube prize. You can see my full thoughts here: https://youtu.be/5QGUMOHG3Ts 3.5 stars - The author does a great job of showing how and why these women would choose to leave their families behind and become radicalized I read this for round 1 of the booktube prize. You can see my full thoughts here: https://youtu.be/5QGUMOHG3Ts

  6. 5 out of 5

    Donna Davis

    Those of us in the United States don’t have much of a window on the women of ISIS, and I thought this title might help me understand them better. In some ways this proves true, but in the end, I couldn’t finish this book and I can’t recommend it. Thanks go to Net Galley and Random House for letting me read it free and early. Here’s a quote that provides a thesis: "Many of these women were trying, in a twisted way, to achieve dignity and freedom through an embrace of a politics that ended up viol Those of us in the United States don’t have much of a window on the women of ISIS, and I thought this title might help me understand them better. In some ways this proves true, but in the end, I couldn’t finish this book and I can’t recommend it. Thanks go to Net Galley and Random House for letting me read it free and early. Here’s a quote that provides a thesis: "Many of these women were trying, in a twisted way, to achieve dignity and freedom through an embrace of a politics that ended up violating both...The political fractures from which [ISIS] arose have not been fixed. History has shown that unless conditions genuinely change, a new insurgency always arises from the ashes of an old one." Moaveni shares the case studies of individual women that have been drawn to the Islamic State. Although the organization provides its women with a measure of security and protection, promoting higher education—in the service of the organization, of course—and sometimes furnishing jobs, it draws not only women that are desperate for food and shelter, but also women from comfortable middle class backgrounds. Once they are in, they find it difficult to leave. Moaveni demonstrates myriad ways in which women provide essential support for ISIS. There are three things that I liked about this book. The research is well done; the women discussed here provide the reader with individual stories and therefore humanize them; and she acknowledges the disparity between mainstream Islamic belief and ISIS. On the other hand, despite disclaimers within the narrative, I was overcome by a crawly sensation when I realized that the author’s overall purpose is to rationalize the choices made by women within Islamic State. She says they are relatable; I am appalled and unpersuaded. Those that dislike a dictatorial regime should indeed advocate for a better system. How great a risk each person is willing to assume is of course an individual decision. But there is nothing that justifies or mitigates the atrocities visited on innocent people by this dreadful pseudo-religion. When push comes to shove, the only real dilemma for me is whether to provide one star or two in review. The second star is reluctantly assigned on the basis of the writer’s solid research; yet the ideas within it are entirely abhorrent. Never, never, and never.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Olive

    I discuss this book in my video covering round 1 of the 2020 Booktube prize here: https://youtu.be/pwlQ_UqP8Uo I discuss this book in my video covering round 1 of the 2020 Booktube prize here: https://youtu.be/pwlQ_UqP8Uo

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jerrie (redwritinghood)

    This was a well-researched and engagingly written look at why young women from many Western countries were persuaded to move to Syria and join ISIS. Like many extremist groups, young and marginalized people were persuaded by propaganda and charismatic leaders. The author tries hard to put herself in the mindset of these young women and is very sympathetic towards them, but this may be the biggest drawback of the book. She seemed to absolve them of their behavior rather then look deeper at indivi This was a well-researched and engagingly written look at why young women from many Western countries were persuaded to move to Syria and join ISIS. Like many extremist groups, young and marginalized people were persuaded by propaganda and charismatic leaders. The author tries hard to put herself in the mindset of these young women and is very sympathetic towards them, but this may be the biggest drawback of the book. She seemed to absolve them of their behavior rather then look deeper at individual motives. Nevertheless, it is a gripping account and inside look at the lives of some women within the ISIS organization.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Marie-Therese

    1.5 stars. A disorganized mess, made even less appealing by leaden, cliched prose. I'm also astonished that this book contains no footnotes or citations of any kind, despite Moaveni quoting large sections of text from newspapers and other published material. Even for popular history, this kind of dismissal of scholarly standards is appalling. I actually feel less informed after reading this slipshod book. Not recommended for anyone.

  10. 5 out of 5

    SheAintGotNoShoes

    A well written easy to read book that tells the stories of 13 different teenagers and women from various countries who left their homes and lives to live in Syria and be part of the caliphate. While the author clearly sides with these women and definitely views them more as victims of society/government/family/male domination rather than cold blooded terrorists, she does criticize ISIS freely. Many reading this book will tend to go one way or the other. The first being ' they got what they deserve A well written easy to read book that tells the stories of 13 different teenagers and women from various countries who left their homes and lives to live in Syria and be part of the caliphate. While the author clearly sides with these women and definitely views them more as victims of society/government/family/male domination rather than cold blooded terrorists, she does criticize ISIS freely. Many reading this book will tend to go one way or the other. The first being ' they got what they deserved ' or ' they were too young and inexperienced and controlled to think things thru before running off to Turkey and Syria ' Each reader has to make up his/her own mind how much sympathy, if any , they want to allot to these 13 young women. I won't get in the middle of any catfights as it is way too easy to join one camp or the other and be blinded to any possible shades of gray. I would have rated this 5 stars rather than the 4 I went with because there are simply way too many women, towns, cities, countries, fighters, borders and organizations to remember. If she would have allotted an entire chapter to each person from start to finish it may have been easier to recall each story. However, she wrote it chapter by chapter on a different person, and you may not see that name again for another 40 pages, and by then you've forgotten where she was from, who she got married to, what country she was in .............

  11. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Mae

    There is some really fascinating and sad stories in this book, but I found the narrative flow a little too muddled. I also got a little confused with who was who at different points, but that may have been the start and stop way I was reading it. There were additional breaks in the narrative to go into further depth of what ISIS was doing at the time, and while others may find that helpful, I mostly skipped over it. What I really appreciated was getting to know these women, what brought them int There is some really fascinating and sad stories in this book, but I found the narrative flow a little too muddled. I also got a little confused with who was who at different points, but that may have been the start and stop way I was reading it. There were additional breaks in the narrative to go into further depth of what ISIS was doing at the time, and while others may find that helpful, I mostly skipped over it. What I really appreciated was getting to know these women, what brought them into extremism and how they fared in the life. It would be interesting to revisit these women in 15 or so years to see how they are still doing.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Book reviews on www.snazzybooks.com I thought this was a thought-provoking and at times shocking read, about the women from all over the world who, for whatever reason, decide to become a part of ISIS. I think Azadeh writes with humanity and respect for these subjects, showing how they go to the point of abandoning their own lives to become an Islamic State wife, and how some of the political history of the Middle East has influenced their decisions – but of course doesn’t excuse them. I have see Book reviews on www.snazzybooks.com I thought this was a thought-provoking and at times shocking read, about the women from all over the world who, for whatever reason, decide to become a part of ISIS. I think Azadeh writes with humanity and respect for these subjects, showing how they go to the point of abandoning their own lives to become an Islamic State wife, and how some of the political history of the Middle East has influenced their decisions – but of course doesn’t excuse them. I have seen some reviews lambasting these women, and the author for portraying them in a sensitive way – ‘because how can anyone share these views?’ But I think this just highlights some readers’ ignorance on the subject. I absolutely do not condone these women’s actions or views, and felt a lot of revulsion when reading many parts of the book – I can honestly say I despise anyone who carries out the actions of ISIS – but we have to understand that there are some reasons for why people feel the West has so harmed their communities. We’ve carried out so many atrocities in other countries, often for terrible reasons too, so I think it would be short-sighted if the author had not highlighted these and shown that there are some reasons for these women feeling the way they do. However, I absolutely felt uncomfortable reading a lot of this book because the idea of wanting to run away and join an organisation such as ISIS just so alien to me – but then I am also not a Muslim so I can never imagine the attraction of wanting to join and help build the Syrian caliphate. I don’t feel like this is a bad thing – I can’t imagine anyone would feel no sense of unease reading about the horrendous actions of ISIS and the way these women were drawn into joining them. The suject matter is, after all, shocking and disturbing. The womens’ stories are told throughout the book in alternate chapters, and peppered throughout is information about Middle Eastern history and politics which I found really helpful but hard to process at times. There are a lot of names in this book, which at times felt a little confusing to keep track of, but then again the book does follow many women and their stories. It’s interesting to read about some of the women’s experiences in life and how, although many grew up in very different countries to our own, such as Tunisia and Syria, parts of their lives are quite similar. It was surprising to hear them talk about pop bands I’d heard of, and experience the same problems and considerations as British women. This helped me think of them as actual people. I found the beginning of the book a little slow at times but did find myself drawn in as it continued; I think the second half of the book was my favourite. Guest House for Young Widows is an interesting and thought-provoking read, and around a subject that deserves to be explored more, despite having been so widely discussed and covered in the media (particularly the Shamima Begum in British newspapers). It’s refreshing to read an alternative account of what happened in many of thes cases, even if we as readers don’t agree with all of the views of these women.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    "Before 2013, no one talked much about “radicalization” in Tunisia. They talked about fucking off to Syria to find a job, to build a polity for Islam, to fight Bashar al-Assad, to join a militant group, to rescue a dying child, to ensure a place in heaven, or some combination of all those things. Those choices and motivations were taken at face value; no one imagined that the young people going to Syria didn’t actually feel these things, that there was instead some fuzzy ideological process call "Before 2013, no one talked much about “radicalization” in Tunisia. They talked about fucking off to Syria to find a job, to build a polity for Islam, to fight Bashar al-Assad, to join a militant group, to rescue a dying child, to ensure a place in heaven, or some combination of all those things. Those choices and motivations were taken at face value; no one imagined that the young people going to Syria didn’t actually feel these things, that there was instead some fuzzy ideological process called radicalization happening to all of them." Every year, it seems like there is a late December non-fiction read for me that suddenly competes for best book of the year, and this year it is Moaveni's spectacular examination of the women of ISIS. This is not, given the subject matter, a very hard book to read. And the reason I feel that this is such an important book is precisely the same reason that some people have taken objection to its existence. If you want to preserve a view of the world that says bad things happen because some people revel in causing suffering, you will find this book confronting. But if we want to stop our world plunging further into violence and destruction, this is exactly the kind of detailed, reflective and complex analysis that might help. Moaveni writes about thirteen women, whose stories vary dramatically. While each has individual differences in motivation, the motivations vary most dramatically between nationalities - the European women view ISIS as a just Caliphate, with little understanding of the religious or political differentiations in the region; the Tunisian women, disillusioned by the post-Arab Spring realities confront ISIS as one of a spectrum of economic, social, religious and political choices; and the Syrian women of Raqqa confront an occupying force. Within wartorn Raqqa, there is conflict within these groups, as the Syrians rail against the naivety and the privilege of the foreigners, especially Europeans, and what they view as a relatively low level of Qur'anic scholarship. Moaveni has a rich history of reporting from the region, especially Tunisia, and she takes time to explain the context that each of the women is making choices within. Her own background, as the American born child of Iranians, deeply informs her understanding of the realities of British Muslim youth., which is backed by extensive research. The book explores a myriad of dynamics from which themes clearly emerge, but even these are filtered through individual circumstances. In discussing these themes, I want to note that it may imply a simpler analysis that Moaveni presents in the book. One of the clearest themes is the shrinking 'grey zone' for Muslims in the West, the space in which a peaceful dissent to Imperialism is possible, in which expression of belief can go unharassed and be part of normal civic engagement. There is an undeniable political element to this, as Moaveni explains: "A leaked report by the Ministry of Defence in 2014 acknowledged that the government would find it more difficult to conduct military interventions in countries where UK citizens or their families originated. It was a rare acknowledgement of how complicated it was becoming for Britain to pursue strategic policies—support for the U.S. War on Terror and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, the ongoing troop presence in Afghanistan, lucrative arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and complicity in the Saudi war in Yemen that resulted in thousands of civilian deaths—that British Muslims opposed. The media, this argument held, was structurally essential to British foreign policy: the public needed to believe that Islam was the greatest social and security threat to modern Britain. If Muslims were dehumanized, it was easier to repress and silence their political objections to such policies, easier to justify the human toll of the invasions and campaigns waged globally in the name of fighting extremism." This situation is often reduced in the West to a discussion about Palestine and Israel, but for those living in Arab countries, the US-Saudi alliance looms as significantly. This is not just a broad political debate, it creates little space for Muslims living in Europe to feel part of the polity. For idealistic young people, longing to be both cool and part of something bigger, social media and broadcasts offer the way to connect with others that don't require them to deny their religion, and support policies which have decimated their communities. When combined with family isolation, fragmented communities - themselves more likely in Pakistani and Bangladeshi migrant families where the adults were raised in village structures vastly different to the cities they have migrated to - you develop vulnerability for ISIS recruiting. This shrinking grey zone also exists, to some extent, in the post-Arab Spring Tunisia and Syria that Moaveni describes. Here, economic survival is linked to political and social connections - hijab and niqab become indicators of political as well as religious allegiances, and where political groupings evolve quickly and in unexpected directions. "Do they understand the difference between those who came early?", one of her subjects asks at a point, referring to the waves of mercenaries and violence-fetishists who started to replace the earlier waves of idealists and job seekers once the beheadings started. This, of course, does not deny that violence was an early part of the ISIS story - again, a review risks simplify a book which is well-aware it is looking into the heart of darkness. Moaveni does not shirk from the realities of life in ISIS-controlled Raqqa - the violence, the fear, the cronyism and sexual exploitation. She distances her own voice from the professed reasons of many of her subjects, and reminds the reader that people lie, and more so when they are, as ISIS refugees now are, living under controlled circumstances. She wants readers to understand that violence against Muslims looms large not only for the world's global Muslim population but also for Brown people in other countries. ISIS's violence is horrific, but it is not the only horrific violence in the world. And for those living with less well-condemned violence, the hypocrisy creates tension. It is not an easy read for leftists, who no doubt cheer on the analysis of imperialism, but for whom the rapidity with which idealism can be turned to sadistic mass murder can sit less comfortably. The failure of the Arab Spring to achieve lasting change sits heavily on the book, mediated only slightly by the bright spots in Tunisia. Moaveni also challenges feminists who cling to gendered theories of war. "Women may certainly experience wars, volatility, and state repression differently than men. But ultimately gender does not define their experience, it simply particularizes it; the women of this book have far more in common with the men around them than they do with women of wholly different countries." The book is not a comprehensive analysis of the politics of the conflict - the YPG appears only at the end of the book, in the context of refugee camps, for example - rather it is a series of specific stories of specific women, with enough context to understand those stories. But nevertheless, it raises huge questions about our global futures: not so much the socio-political elements here, but our failures of empathy and unwillingness to look at our darkness. Moaveni's anger shows in the conclusion, some of which comes from the decision by most Western powers to strip the citizenship of those who joined ISIS. These nationals are now the problem, largely, of Kurdish populations in northern Syria and Iraq, stuck overseeing refugee camps of war criminals no-one wants to own. Presented as a form of punishment, it instead represents the ultimate refusal to take responsibility by Britain and France. These people, this conflict has nothing to do with "us", is the message sent. We simply wash our hands.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Currently on the Baillie Gifford Shortlist, this is the story of several women, who travelled to Syria. Some had boyfriends, husbands, or brothers, who had already gone, or who wanted them to accompany, or join, them there. Others thought it would be the ideal place in which to live in a country ruled by Islamic law and to practice their religion the way they wished. Others were naïve, unhappy at home, looking for adventure, enticed or groomed; either on the internet, or in person. All would, fa Currently on the Baillie Gifford Shortlist, this is the story of several women, who travelled to Syria. Some had boyfriends, husbands, or brothers, who had already gone, or who wanted them to accompany, or join, them there. Others thought it would be the ideal place in which to live in a country ruled by Islamic law and to practice their religion the way they wished. Others were naïve, unhappy at home, looking for adventure, enticed or groomed; either on the internet, or in person. All would, fairly quickly, become disillusioned… The women in this book come from various countries, including Syria, Tunisia, Germany and the UK. Their reasons vary, but it is difficult to know what to believe. Undoubtedly, had you asked these young women their reasons before they travelled, they may have been very different from those given once the women were trying to extricate themselves from a situation which had long since seemed exciting or idealistic. Indeed, such dreams seem to have dissipated almost from the moment of arrival. People travelling from around the world, whether of the same religion or not, bring age old prejudices and stereotypes with them. Unfortunately for the British contingent, they seem to have been viewed as good recruits for suicide bombings, as they were seen as unsuitable for fighting. Had they known that before they left, perhaps martyrdom would not have seen so attractive. Whatever the reasons given, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the men had gone to fight and that those women attempting to join ISIS were aware of – and often state that terrorist atrocities are acceptable – the fact that there had been terrible acts committed before they arrived. Heading to a country where innocent people are beheaded seems a bizarre choice, but then most of the choices these young women made are misjudged, badly thought out and ill advised. Talking of which, of interest to readers in the UK will be the story of the four British schoolgirls from East London, including Shamima Begum, whose nationality was stripped by the British government and whose story has changed from stating that she wanted to live with her husband in Holland to later claiming she was raped by him in a bid to reclaim British citizenship. Here really lies the problem with this book. The author is simply too sympathetic to these women and, although she sometimes poses vague questions about the reliability of their claims, she doesn’t push hard enough. Undeniably, this is an interesting look at ISIS through the eyes of female recruits. It is fascinating to learn that religious dress was viewed as a way for young women to rebel in Tunisia, for example. However, overall, I found this left me with as many questions as answers. When the author visits one of the women, Nour, for example, after she had fled Syria and was working a shoe shop, she is clearly distressed by her new life. “It is like living a lie,” she states, her eyes welling with tears, and then argues that the Paris attacks in November 2015 were justified. At times, you feel sympathy for these, often silly, young women, but are then brought up short by the reality of what they – still – believe. As a book this was a really thought provoking read, but I just wish the author had pushed more for answers and explanations and, perhaps, investigated, and questioned, the claims made. As it was, it was hard not to feel her sympathy was not just for their plight, but for the reasons they headed to a war zone in the first place.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lena

    Sad, sobering, devastating, and eye-opening. If I could give it 10 stars, I would.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Robert Sheard

    This book is just too complicated for me. Moaveni has written about the Middle East for twenty years and knows the complexities there quite well, but it's overwhelming for someone like me who has a superficial understanding of the Middle East. I also think the format of the book (alternating among the women's different stories instead of telling each story from beginning to end separately) makes the experience even more confusing. As I said on YouTube, this book is too smart for me, and while it This book is just too complicated for me. Moaveni has written about the Middle East for twenty years and knows the complexities there quite well, but it's overwhelming for someone like me who has a superficial understanding of the Middle East. I also think the format of the book (alternating among the women's different stories instead of telling each story from beginning to end separately) makes the experience even more confusing. As I said on YouTube, this book is too smart for me, and while it gave me an overview of what drew various women to ISIS, the complexities and subtleties of the politics, ideologies, and factions in the Syrian and Iraqi conflict are lost on me.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Scribe Publications

    In this searing investigation, Moaveni explores the phenomenon of Muslim women — many of them educated, successful, and outwardly Westernised — choosing to travel to Syria in support of jihad ... In concise, visceral vignettes, Moaveni immerses her readers in a milieu saturated with the romantic appeal of violence. The result is a journalistic tour de force that lays bare the inner lives, motivations, and aspirations of her subjects. STARRED REVIEW Publishers Weekly Eloquent, empathetic, insig In this searing investigation, Moaveni explores the phenomenon of Muslim women — many of them educated, successful, and outwardly Westernised — choosing to travel to Syria in support of jihad ... In concise, visceral vignettes, Moaveni immerses her readers in a milieu saturated with the romantic appeal of violence. The result is a journalistic tour de force that lays bare the inner lives, motivations, and aspirations of her subjects. STARRED REVIEW Publishers Weekly Eloquent, empathetic, insightful — and essential reading. A book that goes beyond slogans and stereotypes on a journey into a world we know too little about, in an attempt to understand young women whose stories startle and sadden. Lyse Doucet, BBC chief international correspondent Azadeh Moaveni offers what is sure to become a modern classic, answering the question of how Muslim women become, as the Western media puts it, “radicalised” ... Moaveni not only provides granular views of particular women as they navigate this sociopolitical minefield but also situates these stories in a broader cultural context, rendering them legible in compelling ways ... I couldn’t put the book down. Kelly Blewett, BookPage Azadeh Moaveni has written a powerful, indispensable book on a challenging subject: the inner lives and motivations of women who joined or supported the Islamic State militant group. It is a great read, digestible and almost novelistic, but it is much more than that. Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS tackles many taboos that have hampered clear-eyed discussion of Islamist extremism in general and ISIS in particular. The book provides an illuminating, much-needed corrective to stock narratives, not only about the group that deliberately and deftly terrified officials and publics across the world, but also about the larger ‘war on terror’ and the often ineffective, even counterproductive policies of Western and Middle Eastern governments. Anne Barnard, New York Times Peeling back layers of gender, Islamophobia, faith, loyalty, and socialisation, Moaveni situates the women’s stories within the larger historical and sociopolitical context of the time. Following 13 women in total, Guest House for Young Widows is an ambitious attempt to understand the attraction of ISIS for many disaffected youth who were ready to believe. Laura Chanoux, Booklist Brilliantly provocative and genuinely eye-opening ... It is truly fascinating as well as being an incredibly well-written work of narrative nonfiction. Alison Huber, Readings Azadeh Moaveni has achieved a feat of reporting to provide a rare glimpse into the private lives of these ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events. Brave, visceral, moving; essential reading for anyone seeking to understand so much of the violence in our troubled world. Ben Rawlence, author of City of Thorns Essential reading. Martha Gill, The Times Forensic yet empathetic … Always nuanced, Azadeh tears up the caricature of psychopaths unfazed by beheadings, and paints a more comprehensible portrait of culturally dislocated girls won over by recruiters who knew exactly which buttons to press. Dani Garavelli, The Herald This narrative nonfiction is written as a pastiche of sorts, vividly painting a picture of the journeys many Muslim women followed during their interactions with ISIS … a cohesive and engaging story. Aisling Philippa, Lip Moaveni humanises her subjects — 13 women who joined IS from Europe and the Middle East — through skillful storytelling and novelistic intimacy. Kawther Alfasi, Prospect An incredibly detailed piece of journalistic research … It’s genius. Baillie Gifford Prize podcast The book is a ripping yarn and has been named one of The New York Times’ top 100 books of 2019. It provides a fascinating insight into the complex realities at play for those drawn to the fight. Kerrie O’Brien, The Age [A] clear-eyed exploration. Geordie Williamson, The Weekend Australian

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    http://www.bookwormblues.net/2020/06/... I put off reading this book for a while, but recently I saw the audiobook on my library’s website and decided to give it a download. It’s not an easy listen. The subject matter is divisive and difficult, and there really aren’t any happy endings. There’s a saying that basically goes, there are no winners in war, and I think the conflict in Syria is the perfect illustration in that. No one won. Everyone lost. And, arguably, it is still happening in one form http://www.bookwormblues.net/2020/06/... I put off reading this book for a while, but recently I saw the audiobook on my library’s website and decided to give it a download. It’s not an easy listen. The subject matter is divisive and difficult, and there really aren’t any happy endings. There’s a saying that basically goes, there are no winners in war, and I think the conflict in Syria is the perfect illustration in that. No one won. Everyone lost. And, arguably, it is still happening in one form or another. The thing that has always fascinated me with Isis, that you just never saw with other radical movements, was this vast swath of people relocating for the cause. No one really did that for Al Qaida, but for Isis, men and women were picking up and moving to Syria in droves, sometimes alone, sometimes their entire families would come along. And, perhaps the plight of the women was the most interesting to me. These (usually) young women from countries all over the world, relocating to arguably play a role in their own subjugation. Why… why would anyone want to do that? And it’s been discussed. Of course it has been discussed. Entire documentaries have been created that talk about the Isis movement, but usually all of this discussion is from a very Western point of view, and a lot of the issues that move women to join Isis are so bogged down in Western jargon and perspective that it makes no real sense why something like (insert thing here) would inflame a sixteen-year-old girl enough to just pick up and leave. This book isn’t like that. Written from a very pro-Muslim point of view, it really dissects social issues in a way that I, frankly, have not seen done before. From the Arab Spring, to issues surrounding the media in the UK, to the clash of cultures with Muslims living in Western countries, and general life dissatisfaction, all of this is covered here, and in a much different light so, while I don’t agree with the sentiments these women felt, I understand, more or less, where they were coming from and why they would feel the way they felt—an outsider in their world, and why the appeal of this far off place was so strong for them. That being said, this book is a lot about radicalization, and that’s what surprised me more than anything else. How these people in these radical Muslim groups seemed to know just who to target, and just how to do it. They had their marks—the depressed, lonely, dissatisfied, misunderstood, misfits, etc. They knew exactly who to ply with their messages, and they knew exactly how to twist their Muslim faith just enough to sell their product to these desperate, lost youths in just the right way. They’d slowly suck the lives out of these people. It would start with a friendly introduction, and then it was activities every day, and constant text messages, and Youtube videos and on and on, until these women were eating and drinking this stuff all the time, constantly. Until there was nothing else for them to absorb but this call to Syria and the great glory of this Islamic state. And outside of those Muslims who live in Western societies, a few of the women covered in this book are from Tunisia, where there was huge political unrest, and poverty, destitution, and societal insecurity drove a whole lot of men and women to Syria, because that appeared to be the only opportunity they’d have to make money, and do something other than hope that tomorrow would be better. As we know, nothing ended up the way anyone wanted it to. Not those under Isis, and not the rest of the world. Now, there are huge refugee camps, and one of the largest relocations of people in human history. Despite the fall of the caliphate, there are still ardent, devout believers. Women, who have given up everything, are living out there either believing, or not believing, in the thing that brought them there in the first place. Countries around the world are trying to figure out how to deal with their citizens who moved to Syria to fight in this war. There are still a whole lot of Isis pockets around the world. It’s not gone, and I do worry that the next generation is growing up equally as indoctrinated as those who joined the caliphate in the first place. An entire generation of children living in refugee camps are still growing up knowing nothing but war, and someday we, the world, will have to reckon with that. So yeah, this book is not comfortable, and it’s not happy. It’s a hard, incredibly disturbing read about the slow slide into radicalization, and the often-catastrophic results of said journey. Not every woman the author covers survives to the end of the book. Not every family gets reunited. I don’t think any story ends happily. I don’t think I expected them to, but I also don’t think I expected to be this… bothered… by it. And it’s not that any of this really surprised or offended me on any real level. I knew what I was getting going into this book. What bothered me, perhaps, is just how sick and pervasive this radicalization was, and how it just blew apart and shattered so many lives. I suppose destruction is different when it has a face and a voice. When it’s humanized. I can’t imagine being the sixteen-year-old girl leaving school in London to join Isis. I equally cannot imagine the hardship her parents must have faced after they discovered their daughter missing. I cannot imagine the mother who had to get the phone call that her daughter was never coming home because she died in an air-raid. I can’t imagine being one of the mothers raising their children in a refugee camp. Children who, quite literally, will likely never know anything but war, fighting, and poverty, the likes of which none of us can understand. In the end, I do feel like books like this are incredibly important. To understand radicalization, to understand how movements like Isis even begin, we have to know how people are being pulled into them. We have to know why dissatisfied people decide to become suicide bombers, rather than write the local newspaper, or effecting change on a local level. We have to understand what is being said, and why it appeals to people. It’s like looking in a mirror just so we can examine our ugly spots, as a society. That’s never something any of us want to do, and it’s never comfortable, but it is absolutely necessary. To stop tragedies like this from happening again, we have to understand what allowed it to happen in the first place. But my god, this book made my soul hurt. On a more writerly note, in the end I decided to minus a star from this book’s rating because there were so many women covered, and there was no real order to their stories, that sometimes I had to go back in the book a bit to remind myself who was who, and what they were up to the last time the book touched base with them. I also would have liked a lot more of life under Isis. In this book, what is mostly covered is how these women got involved in Isis in the first place. There are some highlights of their lives under the caliphate, but not many, and then there are a few escape journeys told, but again, not many. While I think the focus of this book was correct, with its focus on indoctrination, spliced with current events and how local Muslims in various areas could have interpreted them, my personal curiosity regarding life in the caliphate wasn’t really satisfied. Then again, that’s not really what the book is about so this point is really neither here nor there. I will also say that I do think sometimes the author went a bit out of her way to be overly sympathetic with some of these characters. While I do think it would be very hard to divorce yourself emotionally from stories as fraught through as these, there were some occasions where I did feel like she bent over backwards to paint these women in a better light than they, occasionally, may have deserved. In the end, I am really glad I read this book, and it is not one I am likely to ever forget.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    This did not suit me. The author, expanding on news stories, seemed to be caught between writing a nonfictional narrative and using fictional techniques so that the whole suffered.

  20. 4 out of 5

    TJL

    This book makes the mistake of, on several occasions, veering from "I want you to understand why these women made the choices that they did" to "I want you to sympathize and excuse why these women did what they did". And when you are writing a book about women who made a choice to join ISIS, an Islamic terrorist group responsible for: genocide (the Yazidis), disturbingly gruesome executions, bombings of civilian locations (Manchester, for instance), human trafficking (women have been sold into pro This book makes the mistake of, on several occasions, veering from "I want you to understand why these women made the choices that they did" to "I want you to sympathize and excuse why these women did what they did". And when you are writing a book about women who made a choice to join ISIS, an Islamic terrorist group responsible for: genocide (the Yazidis), disturbingly gruesome executions, bombings of civilian locations (Manchester, for instance), human trafficking (women have been sold into prostitution and systemically raped by ISIS), and cult-like brainwashing (they've had their KIDS murder prisoners to teach them how) ...then you need to be very, very careful in asking me to sympathize with these women and their choices- especially when all it takes is for me to remember that time I read The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State and maybe redirect my sympathy to the women who were getting raped, beaten, and murdered by the people these women made a CHOICE to join up with. You gotta be real, REAL careful, because it's not something that's going to work unless you're writing for an audience of people that are already predisposed to sympathizing with them. It's a personal tic of mine that I am extremely sensitive to the excusing and minimizing of women's crimes in comparison to men's (i.e. "the men are evil, they BRAINWASHED the women, they MANIPULATED the women- ergo the women cannot be held responsible for their crimes"). And when I get a whiff of it in a book about ISIS, it's not gonna go down well.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jesse Mechler

    I cannot put into words what this book will make you feel. Moaveni does an amazing job educating the reader and sharing the women's stories. It's a necessary read in today's political climate.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    An account of 13 women who join ISIS that erases the line between seeking to understand and rationalizing. Quite bizarrely, the author gives families and religious institutions a pass while throwing extreme judgement on teachers, the media and the dreaded secularists. The author has infinite patience and understanding for these girls and women, and no time for anyone who doesn’t show them the same infinite patience. These are mostly teenagers from immigrant families in Europe, and some in North An account of 13 women who join ISIS that erases the line between seeking to understand and rationalizing. Quite bizarrely, the author gives families and religious institutions a pass while throwing extreme judgement on teachers, the media and the dreaded secularists. The author has infinite patience and understanding for these girls and women, and no time for anyone who doesn’t show them the same infinite patience. These are mostly teenagers from immigrant families in Europe, and some in North Africa, who travel to Syria. Of course I had sympathy for these girls who are conflicted and confused and seeking acceptance, but geez you would think their decision is almost justified. It’s framed like: How could they possibly cope when they were sometimes criticized for covering their faces? How could they resist when leaving for an Islamic State seemed so romantic and there was no compelling counter narrative? The most infuriating chapters were about girls who left for Syria from the UK and Germany, for whom the author has no love. She stresses the need for thoughtful integration programs, then immediately criticizes the UK for supposedly demanding complete acceptance of British values, including gender liberalism. To her, integration is some vague thing where people learn how to navigate the culture without changing anything about how they live. If Europe sucks so much, why do people keep choosing it? If you're fleeing from violence in Pakistan why not choose another Muslim country? She criticizes Muslim countries too, but the scale is just so different. At one point, she seems to equate extreme human rights violations in Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia with the production of an anti-Islamic film in America. These two are on the same spectrum of horror. She treats the incidents in which girls are chided for wearing hijabs with much more outrage than stories of women in Syria beaten for wearing clothes that are too tight. The author almost makes some reasonable arguments but her complete inability to give any small criticism to religion derails her every time. When trying to understand why British Muslim women often remain less educated and less likely to work than women from India with a Sikh or Hindu background, she wouldn’t dare suggest religion - it’s that the Sikh women came from urban versus rural centers. She thinks secularist scholars who dare to suggest that religion is a cause of Islamic militancy are just arrogant pricks who don’t know a damn thing. Meanwhile, a former ISIS woman basically admits that if the Islamic State had provided economic security, she would have overlooked all the beheading stuff. No criticism there. Her epilogue suggests… listening more, I guess? Understanding nuance and letting go of “dualistic certainties about enlightened secular liberalism versus regressive patriarchal Islam.” But again, the author suggests that the pressure of living as a perpetual “other” in the West will drive people to jihadism. For her there is no other explanation.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sheree | Keeping Up With The Penguins

    The wives, widows, and children of ISIS fighters are currently languishing in refugee camps; we’ve all seen the footage on the evening news. That’s what makes Guest House For Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni a particularly timely read, and Scribe was kind enough to send me an early copy for review. In it, a seasoned Middle East reporter explores the questions at the heart of the crisis: what would make a woman leave a cosmopolitan life to become an ISIS bride? Where do we draw the line between vic The wives, widows, and children of ISIS fighters are currently languishing in refugee camps; we’ve all seen the footage on the evening news. That’s what makes Guest House For Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni a particularly timely read, and Scribe was kind enough to send me an early copy for review. In it, a seasoned Middle East reporter explores the questions at the heart of the crisis: what would make a woman leave a cosmopolitan life to become an ISIS bride? Where do we draw the line between victim and conspirator? Is it possible to empathise without being complicit? Guest House For Young Widows challenges you to see these women as humans, not monsters, subject to the same foils and foibles as the rest of us. They reside in the shades of grey between “good” and “evil”, the liminal space that it’s more convenient for us to forget. Their stories are unique, and yet, strangely relatable. My mouth dropped as I read about the push-back some of the girls experienced when they chose to wear the niqab to school: not just at the harshness of their treatment, but also at its familiarity. It echoed my own experiences of institutional punishment for dying my hair and painting my nails as a self-styled teenage rebel. I’m not equating the two experiences, of course, but it really reinforced to me that it is the policing of women’s bodies and expression that is the problem, rather than the nature of the expression itself. So many of the young people in this book were frustrated by broken promises of radical change. Are there lessons we can learn here, say, for the Climate Strikers that aged politicians have failed to mollify? Perhaps. I suggest you read it and find out for yourself. An extended version of this review is available to subscribers at Keeping Up With The Penguins.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Daphyne

    Journalist, Azadeh Moaveni, has presented the events from the Arab Spring through to late 2018 and the US involvement with a Kurds in Northern Syria. She tells of these events through the unique perspective of 13 women associated with ISIS. These were young often-modern women who “converted to Islam in part to secure some meaning in life, in part for a measure of community and support.” It’s the story of young men & women frustrated by foreign policy, frustrated by the slums they lived in, frustra Journalist, Azadeh Moaveni, has presented the events from the Arab Spring through to late 2018 and the US involvement with a Kurds in Northern Syria. She tells of these events through the unique perspective of 13 women associated with ISIS. These were young often-modern women who “converted to Islam in part to secure some meaning in life, in part for a measure of community and support.” It’s the story of young men & women frustrated by foreign policy, frustrated by the slums they lived in, frustrated by the lack of jobs...the reasons are endless. ISIS held out a dream of a place where they were wanted, had a role to play (even women), & were convinced they were fighting for noble & pure Islam, only to discover it was a bed of lies & violence. Some have complained about the journalist’s negative statements about UK, USA, & Israel, but she is sharing this from the perspective of the Muslim world. It is exactly what I was hoping for. The issues and causes are so complex. Nothing will change as long as we continue to write off all Muslim discontent with the word “terrorist.” We have to listen.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Oliver Clarke

    This is a compelling and fascinating account of the lives of a number or women who either joined or tried to join ISIS in Syria. It’s surprisingly gripping, often very moving, even-handed and endlessly illuminating. The stories are well chosen, complex political and religious concepts are clearly explained and the writing is almost beautiful at times. It seems to me that the lure of extremism is one of those subjects that’s both important and rarely taking about. Azadeh Moaveni absolutely does i This is a compelling and fascinating account of the lives of a number or women who either joined or tried to join ISIS in Syria. It’s surprisingly gripping, often very moving, even-handed and endlessly illuminating. The stories are well chosen, complex political and religious concepts are clearly explained and the writing is almost beautiful at times. It seems to me that the lure of extremism is one of those subjects that’s both important and rarely taking about. Azadeh Moaveni absolutely does it justice.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bridget

    This is another WOW book - I gasped, I cried, I had to put the book down for a few moments every once in a while to just let it all sink in. I am reminded of another book I just read (The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper), where simply because of the book's topic, we know that things don't turn out well for these women. And there is a special kind of heartbreak that comes from reading about young girls (with variably bright futures to begin with, to be fair) who we k This is another WOW book - I gasped, I cried, I had to put the book down for a few moments every once in a while to just let it all sink in. I am reminded of another book I just read (The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper), where simply because of the book's topic, we know that things don't turn out well for these women. And there is a special kind of heartbreak that comes from reading about young girls (with variably bright futures to begin with, to be fair) who we know will eventually get sucked into ISIS and then spit out at the end extremely worse for the wear, if at all. And the level of detail and analyis here is mesmerizing. I started the book and saw that we would be following 13 (!) separate women and thought it was a bit much, but it absolutely wasn't. Each woman is so vividly drawn that it was never difficult to tell them apart as we followed the thread of their lives. And reading about such different women with different life histories gave the author many opportunities to talk about the diverse reasons women joined ISIS in the first place, and what it all means for Islam, milennials, and radicalism in general. This book also does a stellar job of painting the "before" so that we really get a sense for what these women lost and the often impossible choices they faced. A note about the content: I think it's easy to get sensational when you're writing about ISIS, but this book thankfully never does. There are really terrible things that happen in this book but the women as human beings take center stage and the author is tremendously respectful to their lived experiences.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Catelyn Silapachai

    What a fascinating and important book. I couldn't recommend it more. The research is impeccable and clearly draws upon the author's decades of experience as a journalist.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    This book is about the unusual plight of women who joined ISIS. The author follows 13 women who were recruited, bullied, motivated, charmed, and mislead into joining the fight to secure an Islamic state in Syria. These girls (often only 15-years-old) were from Tunisia, Syria, Germany, England, and Eastern Asian. Most wanted a more relgious life, freedom from poverty & dysfuction, and a handsome brave husband. Instead, they were married, widowed, remarried and stuck before their next birthday. On This book is about the unusual plight of women who joined ISIS. The author follows 13 women who were recruited, bullied, motivated, charmed, and mislead into joining the fight to secure an Islamic state in Syria. These girls (often only 15-years-old) were from Tunisia, Syria, Germany, England, and Eastern Asian. Most wanted a more relgious life, freedom from poverty & dysfuction, and a handsome brave husband. Instead, they were married, widowed, remarried and stuck before their next birthday. One soldier bride was pressed into using birth control because ISIS said suicide bombers would be less inclinesd to blow themselves up if they had kids. This is a fascinating look at how history, culture, immigration, economics, and Islamaphobia shaped and eventually ruined these women's lives.

  29. 4 out of 5

    gillyweed

    Azadeh Moaveni’s “Guest House for Young Widows” cements her reputation as one of the leading journalists covering the modern Middle East - with particular emphasis on the female experience. In this book, she intricately and empathetically reconstructs the paths to ISIS of thirteen young women originating in the Middle East and North Africa, and in diaspora communities in Europe. As she does so, she also charts the evolution of perceptions of the caliphate and its members, both from within, and w Azadeh Moaveni’s “Guest House for Young Widows” cements her reputation as one of the leading journalists covering the modern Middle East - with particular emphasis on the female experience. In this book, she intricately and empathetically reconstructs the paths to ISIS of thirteen young women originating in the Middle East and North Africa, and in diaspora communities in Europe. As she does so, she also charts the evolution of perceptions of the caliphate and its members, both from within, and without. The result is a narrative that is remarkable in scope, related in a memoir style that facilitates genuine understanding for the reader, while stopping short of asking for sympathy. Moaveni remains, as ever, the consummate professional in this regard — with a stated intention to shed light on the circumstances that led each of these women (and, indeed, young girls) to seek out the Islamic State, or other Islamic militant groups, such as al-Nusra, she has surely produced here one of the most nuanced and responsible documentations of the conflict thus far. I will gladly pay for Moaveni’s Pulitzer nomination fee myself, if I’m being frank — by rights, “Guest House for Young Widows” is a shoe-in.

  30. 4 out of 5

    peg

    I read this book as part of the RATHBONES FOLIO PRIZE https://www.rathbonesfolioprize.com/2.... I really enjoy reading through the shortlist of this prize because it includes all genres and gives me an overview of the best literary writing in English each year. That being said, this non-fiction work is probably one I am least qualified to judge, since like many Americans I am sadly lacking knowledge of the ISIS nation and the many women who elected to either join or marry into it. The author desc I read this book as part of the RATHBONES FOLIO PRIZE https://www.rathbonesfolioprize.com/2.... I really enjoy reading through the shortlist of this prize because it includes all genres and gives me an overview of the best literary writing in English each year. That being said, this non-fiction work is probably one I am least qualified to judge, since like many Americans I am sadly lacking knowledge of the ISIS nation and the many women who elected to either join or marry into it. The author describes 13 women of different nationalities and ethnic groups who joined ISIS only to be abused, incarcerated or put in refugee camps. This problem seems in some ways unsolvable as the author plainly states that “No country wants its ISIS citizens back”.

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