Tuesday, 25 June 2019

My Past Is a Foreign Country: A Muslim feminist finds herself by Zeba Talkhani


My Past Is a Foreign Country: A Muslim feminist finds herself by Zeba Talkhani
Published in the UK by Sceptre today, the 27th June 2019.

2019 New Release Challenge read and one of my 2019 COYER Summer Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


27-year-old Zeba Talkhani charts her experiences growing up in Saudi Arabia amid patriarchal customs reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale, and her journey to find freedom abroad in India, Germany and the UK as a young woman.

Talkhani offers a fresh perspective on living as an outsider and examines her relationship with her mother and the challenges she faced when she experienced hair loss at a young age. Rejecting the traditional path her culture had chosen for her, Talkhani became financially independent and married on her own terms in the UK. Drawing on her personal experiences Talkhani shows how she fought for the right to her individuality as a feminist Muslim and refused to let negative experiences define her.


For all the fuss made in the UK about Muslim women's lives and choices, it seems rare for any to actually get an opportunity to put across their own point of view. Boris's casually misogynistic racism was widely reported, but responses from the women he insulted were not. This prevalent attitude is what, for me, made reading Zeba Talkhani's memoir such a refreshing experience. My Past Is A Foreign Country is open and honest - a Muslim woman speaking her mind.

Talkhani grew up within the strict patriarchal interpretations of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia but, as she later learned living in Germany and Britain, assumptions of male privilege are by no means restricted to Muslim countries. Personally I would ask whether a woman who feels she cannot leave her home without covering her face with cosmetics is more free than one who feels she must cover her face with fabric. In both cases the question of individual choice should be paramount. 'I want to ...' rather than 'I must ...'. One of the most interesting parts of My Past Is A Foreign Country, I thought, is when Talkhani discusses what drives women to perpetuate discriminatory patriarchal systems. Her understanding of both social and personal pressures is certainly thought-provoking.

I hope My Past Is A Foreign Country is widely read and appreciated by women and men regardless of their faith or politics. Talkhani's feminism chimes strongly with my own ideas on the subject and I felt that a lot of what she has to say transcends divisions of gender, religion or nationality.

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1 comment:

  1. You're so right! What we see everywhere is what Boris is saying but we are not actually hearing from the women or the victims. And those are the people we need to be giving a voice. I am so happy to know that this book does this.

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