Amazing Biography Sep 24, 2009
I seldom give books a 5-star rating to books because I usually find them wanting in some respect or other. However, I found - to my amazement - that Ayaan Hirsi Ali's "Infidel" to be close enough to perfect. It's one of the few books that I could not put down and could relate to on many levels. The book is divided into 2 parts and 17 chapters that detail her somewhat difficult life in Somalia and Saudi Arabia to her emancipation in the West, particularly Holland. Having never been to Africa myself let alone stayed there, I learned a lot about Muslim life (there) and African customs.
Like most developing countries in the Muslim world, growing up there is usually an unfortunate mix of confusion and ignorance that stifles the mental development and inquisitive nature of children like Ayaan. I knew from the beginning that she was a thinker and would not take it lying down. The narrative is presented in great detail (it makes you wonder how she remembers so much because she never mentioned keeping a journal when she was young). This is especially true in the earlier chapters and it gets a little hard to keep up with all her relatives' names because they are so similar. You might lose track of who is who at times (except for the main characters in her life) but that's not what's important. Her experiences and lessons learned are what matter.
Toward the end of the book, events seem to happen more quickly and sometimes even years are skipped. I suppose those times might have been less eventful. I found her experiences with sex and education both in Africa and Holland to be the most interesting. It takes courage to write about things like that. Her innocence and honesty toward these subjects is refreshing. I didn't find the parts about her involvement in Dutch politics to be of much interest, though. This book also taught me a lot about independent women and how they think. It is an educational peek into such a woman's mind, especially for young (Muslim) men, I would say. Prior to reading this book, I never knew this woman had been through so much. I also never suspected how much her life was (and perhaps still is) threatened by Muslim extremists. The last chapter on Theo van Gogh's murder is very sobering.
Her message is clear. Islam is in need of reform. In its current form, it is detrimental to too many Muslims, especially in the developing world and the victims are mainly women, even though Ayaan is considerate enough to admit that men too, suffer. She is not trying to deconvent her readers into atheism (even though she herself is one) but is calling for us (Muslims in developing countries, especially) to apply our reason and intellect to the problems we face in the world. Not because she feels this is a characteristic of the Western world but because she strongly and objectively believes it to be a better way of living. I really enjoyed reading this outstanding and well-written biography of a young woman and believe a copy belongs in every library around the world.