This novel has been written by Fatima Mernissi, and is considered to be one of the most significant books in explaining the social position of Arab and Muslim women.
This novel is an autobiography of Fatima herself as she had spent her childhood in Morocco during the 1940’s. Fatima presents the ideas, thoughts and dreams of the local people in a very effective way. She weaves in and out of these features putting forward her life in a very appealing manner. Fatima does ensure that she puts forward the religious aspects and the cultural importance of various things, and how they tend to change with the changes in technology. These changes in technology had caused people to travel more and as a result people of different cultures and backgrounds had come together. The author uses the book as a medium to explain things which she once did not understand and did not expect the people to understand them as well.
Collectively the book has a very long lasting effect on the reader as they face the world through the eyes of Fatima and how she tries to make sense of the world around herself. She is faced by many rules and laws which she does not understand fully but has to follow because of living in the society in which she was born.
One of the major themes of this book is the covering of the women. Women were required to stay inside harem in the house and were not allowed to leave the house until they received consent of the male authority of the house. Even then they were allowed to leave being completely covered and their attire included a veil.
The world was progressing swiftly and there was a shift towards protecting the rights of women and granting them freedom. This was also affecting the Muslim world. Even within Fatima’s household there was a consistent shift towards the women rights. Some opposed to deviate from the traditional customs and principles and others were pushing hard for liberation and freedom.
With all the conflict going on inside the household relating to the rights of women, the eight year old Fatima tries to understand the essence behind these problems. She begins to search answers for essential questions that what was a harem and why were Muslim women forced to inhabit it. A large portion of the book has this theme and how the females of the society feel about it.
The author’s recalling of her childhood memories may seem to many as criticism of the lives of the women. However, what the author is aiming to highlight that there are some instances when a person is bound by the culture of the society which they live in. But, the essence is that how they are able to face it and how the women in her community were able to channel their thoughts and live in the society.
Therefore, by using the innocence of an eight year old child Fatima puts forward many themes which and eight year old child is unlikely to understand. These themes in fact help the other people in the society and the readers to realize that there is always a clash between cultures and within them as well. This may not be easy to understand always but it exists and shapes the way of our lives. The women in the childhood of the author are faced by a similar situation.