Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Dreams of Trespass: Tales of A Harem Girlhood

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Dreams of Trespass: Tales of A Harem Girlhood

Article excerpt

Dreams of Trespass: Tales of A Harem Girlhood

By Fatima Mernissi. Addison Wesley, 1994, 242 pp. List: $12.00; AET: $9.50.

Reviewed by Karen Henry

She knew how to talk in the night. With words alone, she could put us onto a large ship sailing from Aden to the Maldives, or take us to an island where the birds spoke like human beings. [We] traveled so far that no gods were to be found, only sun-and-fire worshippers, but even they seemed friendly and endearing when introduced by Aunt Habiba. Her tales made me long to become an adult and an expert storyteller myself. I wanted to learn how to talk in the night. (page 19)

We enter each chapter of Dreams of Trespass through an exquisite photograph and are held there by the magic of Fatima Mernissi's words, proving that she has indeed become an expert storyteller. Mernissi's memoir about her childhood in an urban domestic harem in Fez in the late 1940s recounts the life experiences of her female relatives and her own reactions to the world around her. The book demystifies the harem and puts a face on Arab Muslim women in a personal and highly entertaining manner, exploring the nature of women's power, the value of oral tradition, and the absolute necessity of dreams and celebrations.

The comfort of tradition is recognized and celebrated while women's advances and past accomplishments also are applauded. The strong women characters--mother, grandmothers, aunts, cousins--have different responses to and methods for coping with restricted life in a harem. Fatima's mother celebrated her daughter's birth with the same level of enthusiasm usually reserved for boy babies; she claimed male superiority was nonsense and anti-Muslim. The nationalists' struggle against French rule and for gender equality gave strength to the women's occasional acts of rebellion. The intimacy of harem life allowed eight-year-old Fatima to observe and to participate as well as to question endlessly in order to understand what was happening in changing Morocco.

Her grandmother Yasima, although also part of a harem, lived on a farm where the women had access to the outdoors. She grew plants and rode horses, redesigned her clothing for more freedom of movement and told Fatima that the days were near when men would have only one wife and women would be equally educated. As the men held on to tradition, with the support of some of the women, most women argued for equality and change and found ways to express their desires. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.