The Butterfly Mosque: A Young Woman's Journey to Love and Islam by G Willow Wilson

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The Butterfly Mosque: A Young Woman's Journey to Love and Islam by G Willow Wilson

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: This is a personal story of religious conversion. A young, white, middle-class, American girl travels to Egypt and falls in love: with its culture, its landscape, its people - and one person in particular.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: August 2010
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978-1843548287

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This memoir is told in the first person so straight away there is a connection with the reader. The story starts - not in Egypt - but in the USA. Willow (lovely name) says she's in the market for a philosophy. And in this search she is extremely thorough. She looks at mainstream religions - Christianity, Buddhism to name but two and puts them under the microscope, so to speak. She dismisses all of them before settling on Islam. It appears to offer what she is after, what she is looking for, that enigmatic thing. But also, there's some little twist which helps make her mind up. But not before she digs deep and seeks answers to complex and awkward questions. She reads and researches Islam and finds out surprising facts, which she shares with the reader. Willow is well-read and well-educated. She seems set for a good career of her choice on American soil. Why not settle for that? But she's set on travel to the Middle East come what may.

Willow Wilson talks movingly about the aftermath of 9/11 and of how she and her fellow Americans tried to come to terms with it. If they ever will. And Wilson constantly questions this huge decision of hers to become a Muslim. She keeps changing her mind - and then changes it back again. She does not confide in family or friends at this point. It is her decision and hers alone. It is made all the more difficult by the fact that post 9/11 Wilson sees any conversion to Islam as a betrayal of her fellow Americans. And, as she sets out for Egypt she just feels it in her bones that the country will have a profound effect on her - and that's even before she's boarded the plane. But she's also of a practical mind and looking ahead to her return to the States and says I'd have two of the most coveted job qualifications in post-9/11 America: Arabic language skills and knowledge of the Middle East.

Wilson's style is flowing, easy to read, easy on the page. Given that the subject she's writing about is complex, it is no mean feat to keep the prose reader-friendly. I also found Wilson refreshingly honest. She explains her innermost and private thoughts on her conversion journey. And her many, many doubts along the way. She gives a personal account of what being an American Muslim means to her. She is also very well aware of how others perceive her, especially back home and in her beloved Egypt. But when she meets her husband-to-be, an Egyptian, everything in her life takes on even more meaning, if that were possible. At least he can be her guide through the maze of cultural and social situations she will have to tread. But it's still very difficult.

And in amongst the dreadful poverty of Egypt, Wilson wonders why she's putting herself through all of this. I did ask myself the same question round about the same section in the book. She does her best to answer it truthfully. I admired Wilson's dogged persistence and tolerance and also her general cheerfulness. Others would have folded.

This is a detailed account indeed. Wilson shares with the reader in her engaging style for example, how she copes with Ramadan, the local market place, shopping for food, the interaction (or not) with local Egyptian neighbours and friends. Some may find the whole religious theme a bit dull, a bit tedious, a little dry but I did not. This is a timely book. Wilson finishes on a bit of a cliff-hanger so I'm now asking the question - what next? Recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy Drinking Arak off an Ayatollah's Beard by Nicholas Jubber.

Buy The Butterfly Mosque: A Young Woman's Journey to Love and Islam by G Willow Wilson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Butterfly Mosque: A Young Woman's Journey to Love and Islam by G Willow Wilson at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Butterfly Mosque: A Young Woman's Journey to Love and Islam by G Willow Wilson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Butterfly Mosque: A Young Woman's Journey to Love and Islam by G Willow Wilson at Amazon.com.

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