My first real contact with the phenomena of “binational” marriages was full of clichés and a big success in the western hemisphere being approved in its stereotypes: “Not without my daughter” was the name of the hieß das pretentious novel which was later on picturized with Sally Field playing the leading part. The Arabic or better Islamic world opened up to me until then in terms of historic novels about ancient egypt and their glorious activities. Especially female pharaos such as Hatschepsut, Cleopatra or Echnaton’s beautiful wife Nofretete fascinated me. And now, where to we go from here?
I did not know anything about Iran at that time – I might have been 13 years old. Just a couple friend of my parents shed some light on that country. They have fled from Iran after the revoluton in 1979 and provided us with some information on the shah’s fate. Some other information came from glossy magazines that expatiate on the shah’s fall.
Fact ist I did not have a clue when I read that book on my mother’s recommendation. Nevertheless I got the feeling that the book reproduced a rather unilateral picture of that conflict that describes on the one hand the understanding American wife who leaves no stone unturned to save her marriage in the first place and later only her daughter from a life in a babarian Iranian clan. In the end a swan song of the enlightened American society trying to spread the democratic spark within Iran.
Following a bright inspiration I found my way to the local public library and got myself some books on the Iranian revolution. I learned quickly that the positive description of the life under the shah that I was being told from that Iranian couple had a limited truth. Of course the shah was backed by the rich elite of the country which were allowed for a priviledged life at the expense of the poor people. The shah itself has been supported by the American government monetarily and politically to “buy” stability in the Middle Eastern region full of tension. That is how political persecution and torturing in prisons remained unpunished. When the shah and his family finally had to leave the country in 1979 the people came out of the frying pan into the fire.
When the bookmarket realized that the publishing of books on the suppression of Arabic women can make a lot of money a lot of comparable books flooded the market.
The problems of binational marriages however or moreover the clash of different cultural assumptions – as I realized later – fascinated me substantially. Even though I came across that topic only many years later. During my studies for the first time and recently by accident when I came across the novel “The forbidden wife”. Maybe inspired by my recent stay in Dubai I read that book. A decision that lead to the fact that I read over six novels within a short period dealing with related topics. (You can find a list of that books at the end of this article).
Even though the novel “The forbidden wife” cannot be described as graniose literature still the book activated some hidden feelings in me. It reminded me of my time abroad when I fell in love with some Arabic guy and often we – without realizing it – reached our own cultural limits. Suddenly some reactions I did not understand at that time became more obviously to me. The whole thing functioned as a drug to me and I had to read more.
On the one hand I can recommend the documentation of the TV station NDR (as Video available) “My oriental prince“, displaying in a very descriptive way the getting together and living of two binational couples which met on a journey respectively in the internet. On the other hand there’s the novel “The final sura” by the American Zoe Ferraris. Despite the fact that it is a very exciting crime thriller taking place in Saudi Arabia, one gets to know interesting facts on the country additionally. Moreover the author did a fantastic job in delivering insights into a society hardly known in the west stamped by the perception that men equally suffer from the gender divide as women. A fact new to the author as she admits in an interview at the end of the book. “Born and raised in America I sensed women as the main victims of this separated society”, Ferraris said.
Another book worth-reading is the novel by Rajaa Alsanea “Girls of Riad”, telling us in form of a diary about the sorrows and woes of four young women, which want to get married and happy in Saudi-Arabia. About the book I especially liked the fact that it is written by a local. It seems to be authentic.
Labelled “fiction that saves the day” I can recommend the novels “The rose of Arabia” and “Under the saffron moon”. Everybody who is interested in Arabic culture or even loves it will enjoy those two books. A quote by Eleanor Roosevelt just beautifully rounds off this article: “Women are like tea bags. You never know how strong they are unless you put them into hot water.”
- Ferraris, Zoe (2007): Die letzte Sure. München, Zürich: Pendo Verlag.
- Sasson, Jean (1993): ICH, Prinzessin Sultana und meine Töchter. Augsburg: Weltbild Taschenbuch.
- Alsanea, Rajaa (2007): Die Girls von Riad. München, Zürich: Pendo Verlag.
- Lehmann, Christine (2010): Die Rose von Arabien. Planet Girl Verlag.
- Wermuth, Verena (2007): Die verbotene Frau. Meine Jahre mit Scheich Khalid von Dubai. München: Knaur Taschenbuch.
- Vosseler, Nicole (2008): Unter dem Safranmond. Bergisch Gladbach: Georg Lübbe Verlag.
- Mein Orientalischer Prinz
- A Dalek in a Burqa