Unveiled: A Woman's Journey Through Politics, Love, and Obedience by Deborah Kanafani

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Unveiled: A Woman's Journey Through Politics, Love, and Obedience by Deborah Kanafani

Category: Autobiography
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Sharon Hall
Reviewed by Sharon Hall
Summary: A fascinating look at some of the individual stories behind the various Middle East conflicts, although the writing can on occasion be a little dry.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: March 2008
Publisher: S & S International
ISBN: 0743291832

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In the early 1980s, Deborah Jacobs was a college student from Long Island, New York. Her great-great-grandmother had arrived in America from Lebanon, following the failure of a marriage, and had become a successful entrepreneur. Deborah's mother had a short marriage to a charismatic, ambitious lawyer, whom Deborah continued to idolise, despite some difficulties. His glamorous and, at times, rather edgy lifestyle contrasted strongly with her simple life with her mother.

As a graduate student, Deborah was introduced to Marwan Kanafani, an attractive former football star who had become a Palestinian diplomat at the United Nations. Marwan’s exotic lifestyle and connections initially impressed Deborah and they entered into a relationship and marriage, ostensibly exciting, but one which he increasingly orchestrated and controlled, isolating her from her friends, interests and independent way of living.

The couple moved to Washington DC and started a family, although Marwan's involvement with the Palestine Liberation Organisation and his position as senior advisor and spokesperson for Yasir Arafat dominated their lives. Despite this, Deborah was able to form friendships with a diverse range of women such as Suha Arafat, Queen Dina of Jordan, and other women married to Arab leaders.

With all the pressures from his work and her frustrations, a marriage breakup was inevitable. After the divorce, Deborah travelled to the Middle East to record the stories of some of the women she had met and to join her children, who were on the West Bank visiting their father. However, he refused to return the children to her, and so Deborah stayed in the Middle East for several years to be near them. She started work for the Palestinian government producing television programmes on human rights issues, opening her eyes to the social problems in the region. She was eventually able to arrange the return of her children when they were evacuated to another country during a Palestinian uprising and they returned to live in the US.

For me, the strength of Unveiled lies in the re-telling of some of the big stories of the Middle East filtered through the lives of these women, some intellectual, some glamorous, all adroit at maintaining their sense of themselves despite (or because of) family tragedies, political upheaval and cultural restrictions. Some were shadowy figures, whilst others took more prominent roles in politics and social reform. Kanafani also weaves her own story through that of the politicial upheaval of the region.

In some sections, I found the writing a little dry, but it is worth persevering with as the book becomes more alive when she relates the stories of these women. I would have liked more on her own family background in the US, which was not as dramatic as the events in the Middle East, but which shared some of the same themes, principally women surviving despite isolation, errant husbands and family tragedies. The mix of social changes, cultural differences, women's rights and the role of education during the time her family settled in the US would have made fascinating reading.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking to explore Middle Eastern issues beyond the facts, figures and reported events, rather than as an autobiography. Although they are inextricably linked, I would have preferred two separate books: one expanding and concentrating on Kanafani's own life, and the other looking at the events in the Middle East.

Those interested in human stories about the Middle East might enjoy Palestinian Walks by Raja Shehadeh.

Buy Unveiled: A Woman's Journey Through Politics, Love, and Obedience by Deborah Kanafani at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Unveiled: A Woman's Journey Through Politics, Love, and Obedience by Deborah Kanafani at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Unveiled: A Woman's Journey Through Politics, Love, and Obedience by Deborah Kanafani at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Unveiled: A Woman's Journey Through Politics, Love, and Obedience by Deborah Kanafani at Amazon.com.


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