Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I Am Nujood, Age Ten and Divorced by Nujood Ali and Delphine Minoui

Spoiler alert: I tell how the story ends, but even the title does that. The beauty is in the details.

The most gripping story out of Yemen in 2008 was not Al Queda terrorist attacks targeting Americans, Europeans, or Muslims who do not agree with Al Queda's views. Instead, the world was surprised by the story of a girl who might have been ten years old at the time asking the Yemeni courts for a divorce from her husband, a man at least three times her age. She might only have been eight or nine. Her age is not certain because she has no birth certificate. Her mother who is almost always pregnant can not remember when Nujood was born. The mother can not even remember the order in which her children were born. What was certain was that Nujood was way under the age of fifteen, which was an unenforced age for marriage. The story is told in I Am Nujood, Age Ten and Divorced by Nujood Ali and French journalist Delphine Minoui.

The surprise in the story is not the situation. According to the authors, more than half of Yemeni girls are sold into marriage before the legal age. The surprise is that Nujood ran away from her husband and dared ask the courts for help. Luckily for her, she reached a sympathetic judge who got her help from a women's rights lawyer. Other judges might not have been willing to risk offending "traditional" Yemenites. The judge with the help of other officials took the unprecedented step of arresting both Nujood's husband and father as part of the divorce case.

The crimes recounted (with honesty but remarkable tact) in the story of Nujood and her family are many. Her oldest sister was quickly married after a rape and her second sister sent to prison for adultery with the oldest sister's husband (she may have actually been kidnapped but women are always considered guilty in Yemen). The family had to quickly move from their village to the city after Nujood's father attacked men who question his honor. The family was reduced to begging in the streets. The father illegally sold Nujood, and she was raped and beaten by her husband. The reader gets a sense of Yemen as a very bad place. That a mostly illiterate girl could rise out of this mess is a miracle.

I Am Nujood, Age Ten and Divorced is not a happily-ever-after-ending story. In the afterward, the coauthor reports that Nujood has returned to her father's house, for there is nowhere else for her to go. Her older brothers are quite upset that she has brought great shame on them. Her lawyer tries to protect Nujood and her younger sister and get them into schools. Gifts from people touched by Nujood's story and her book earnings support the family (placating the brothers somewhat). Nujood plans to use book money to get an education and become a women's rights lawyer herself. The reader is left hoping that she can succeed.

Both teens and adults should read this book, which should encourage people in any culture to escape abusive relationships.

Ali, Nujood and Delphine Minoui. I Am Nujood, Age Ten and Divorced. Three Rivers Press, 2010, c2009. ISBN 9780307589675

1 comment:

Netherland said...

This book is extremely touching and inspiring, but one must keep in mind that it was written from the story told by a child. That being the case, it is a little simplistic in it's expression, and it offers limited depth. This, however, becomes one of the book's charms, as readers gain the sense that Nujood herself is telling her story over a cup of tea.