“Arab Women Xxx: Love in the shadows of death” by Barbara Wright documents the aftermath of a terrorist attack in Yemen, when women are either forced to flee or are killed in their homes and in the streets. The author is a former CIA agent. She takes readers on an emotional roller coaster through a country where tradition precludes any sexual contact between men and women, except in certain specified circumstances. The book contains some very vivid scenes of the aftermath, as well as the history of how Islam has long been terrorized by the west and the subsequent submission of its followers.
Barbara Wright was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt. She was one of the few non-Arab women to be employed by the CIA. She was married and had six children before leaving to work with the agency. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US State Department badly needed more people in its fold.
So they conscripted her. But what happened to this ambitious, intelligent woman who had risked everything to serve her country? What happened to the man she had been planning to marry? What would she do with her own life, having lost all hope for a good, satisfying relationship? This is a fascinating read about the dark side of relationships in the Arab world, where Arab women are often expected to perform dangerous sex acts and are subjected to sexual slavery.
But Wright maintains her stance throughout. She depicts both the good and bad characters of the wives and the husbands who support them. She shows how these relationships deteriorate and how each of them ultimately decides to see his or her life come to an end. She takes us through the trials and tribulations of a woman’s life and gives a vivid account of what it means to live in a culture where sex is considered a taboo. It is this dark side of Arab culture that motivates “Arab Women Xxx.” This novel is enlightening, thought-provoking, and deeply moving.
Wright starts off by telling her story in chronological order, but as the book progresses she shifts the perspective to reveal how each of the spouses came to marry. Through a series of flashbacks and reflections, we get to know some of the other characters, including their families and the lives of their friends and relatives. Through these glimpses, we learn more about how these marriages fail, and we discover what the spouses themselves are thinking as they make their way toward a potentially satisfying relationship. The characters’ reactions reveal what they think is lacking in their current marriages, and how those gaps need to be bridged to ensure long-term marital bliss.
These failures also give us a glimpse into the minds of the people we meet at the different social gatherings in which Arab women regularly attend. They display a range of emotions, from shame and embarrassment to fear and resignation. There is no common thread that connects these women, nor do they have the same hopes and dreams. But just like the marriages, these social gatherings also offer hopeful signs of potential renewal.
The core theme of the novel is twofold. The first is the belief that love can transform lives. When we are able to love fully and generously, we can use our gifts and talents to genuinely benefit others. Second, the second theme of the novel is that it is possible to find true happiness through giving. If one can find the joy in giving, she is able to embrace the beauty and joy of life in all its forms. This would allow Arab women to live a more fulfilling life through the fruits of their labor.
Although the plot of the book has many elements in common with stories about marriage and divorce, it differs dramatically in its approach to answering the question posed in the title. This is because the characters in this novel have already discovered true happiness. Their personal stories provide the necessary answers for readers to decide whether or not giving up a happy life to move forward towards a more fulfilling future would be a worthy trade off. The positive lessons within the pages of this remarkable book will help readers discover the value of pursuing happiness. Not only will it help them find true happiness, it will provide them with tools to share happiness with others.