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Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS

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An account of thirteen women who joined, endured, and, in some cases, escaped life in the Islamic State—based on years of immersive reporting by a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Among the many books trying to understand the terrifying rise of ISIS, none has given voice to the women in the organization; but women were essential to the establishment of Abu Bakr al-Baghd An account of thirteen women who joined, endured, and, in some cases, escaped life in the Islamic State—based on years of immersive reporting by a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Among the many books trying to understand the terrifying rise of ISIS, none has given voice to the women in the organization; but women were essential to the establishment of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's caliphate. Responding to promises of female empowerment and social justice, and calls to aid the plight of fellow Muslims in Syria, thousands of women emigrated from the United States and Europe, Russia and Central Asia, from across North Africa and the rest of the Middle East to join the Islamic State. These were the educated daughters of the middle-class as well as working-class drifters and desolate housewives, and they set up makeshift clinics and schools for the Islamic homeland they envisioned. Guest House for Young Widows charts the different ways women were recruited, inspired, or compelled to join the militants and how all found rebellion or community in political Islam. It wasn't long before the militants exposed themselves as little more than violent criminals, more obsessed with power than the tenets of Islam, and the women of ISIS were stripped of any agency, perpetually widowed and remarried, and ultimately trapped in a brutal, lawless society. The fall of the caliphate only brought new challenges to women no state wanted to reclaim.


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An account of thirteen women who joined, endured, and, in some cases, escaped life in the Islamic State—based on years of immersive reporting by a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Among the many books trying to understand the terrifying rise of ISIS, none has given voice to the women in the organization; but women were essential to the establishment of Abu Bakr al-Baghd An account of thirteen women who joined, endured, and, in some cases, escaped life in the Islamic State—based on years of immersive reporting by a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Among the many books trying to understand the terrifying rise of ISIS, none has given voice to the women in the organization; but women were essential to the establishment of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's caliphate. Responding to promises of female empowerment and social justice, and calls to aid the plight of fellow Muslims in Syria, thousands of women emigrated from the United States and Europe, Russia and Central Asia, from across North Africa and the rest of the Middle East to join the Islamic State. These were the educated daughters of the middle-class as well as working-class drifters and desolate housewives, and they set up makeshift clinics and schools for the Islamic homeland they envisioned. Guest House for Young Widows charts the different ways women were recruited, inspired, or compelled to join the militants and how all found rebellion or community in political Islam. It wasn't long before the militants exposed themselves as little more than violent criminals, more obsessed with power than the tenets of Islam, and the women of ISIS were stripped of any agency, perpetually widowed and remarried, and ultimately trapped in a brutal, lawless society. The fall of the caliphate only brought new challenges to women no state wanted to reclaim.

30 review for Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS

  1. 4 out of 5

    Petal X Planet

    Good points: great title and the author writes well. But she writes from the point of view of extreme negativity towards America and Israel. The author loses no opportunity to display her hatred of Israel and exaggerates when it suits her agenda and is likely to gain more sympathy for her subjects. At the root of it, she says, Muslims are "increasingly aggravated" by what they see as pressure for them to integrate: Britain's core national identity was enshrined in gender liberalism, women's/>Britain's Good points: great title and the author writes well. But she writes from the point of view of extreme negativity towards America and Israel. The author loses no opportunity to display her hatred of Israel and exaggerates when it suits her agenda and is likely to gain more sympathy for her subjects. At the root of it, she says, Muslims are "increasingly aggravated" by what they see as pressure for them to integrate: Britain's core national identity was enshrined in gender liberalism, women's physical visibility, an acceptance of homosexuality and UK foreign policy, especially respect for Israel" Israel? That doesn't seem to be at the core of any British values and there are a lot of people who certainly don't respect it (but with words, not violence). So these 'aggravated' young women want to live in a society where they would forever willing be the lesser gender always subject to male control as enshrined in their religion and sharia law. Where women willingly will want to wear head to toe black shrouds, where they will celebrate the murder of homosexuals since it will be a crime punishable by death and honour killings for wives and daughters who step out of any line the men decide on, will be tolerated if not celebrated and Israel, well let's not go into that. These young women want that instead of our values and are willing to fight for them. I believe when in Rome do as the Romans do and the author thinks it is wrongful pressure to expect people to integrate into the society they have chosen to live in. If you despise a place so much it constantly aggravates you and you cannot adjust to it, then go to another country where you can live by your own core values. So that is what is presented to the girls, just that. They think they will be helping to forge a new world order, the Caliphate which would supercede the evil empire of the West (that's us). This would be an ideal community based on Islam and where they, as women, would have a voice (when their male 'owners' allowed it) and be free to cover their faces without censure. And they wouldn't have to face more moderate Muslims who didn't approve of fundamentalism either. According to the author, these girls in the UK, Germany everywhere in Europe really, face the "noise of Islamophobia" every day, and those that didn't run away have to live in it. (Really, it's that bad? So why do more and more middle-eastern and African Muslims, legal and illegal want to come to Europe so badly? Why not another Muslim country instead?) And then they found themselves the wives of terrorists who didn't respect them, then the widows, then they were wives again and so on. And now that ISIS has lost, they don't like their sad lives, Excuse me? They only saw the pure ideals of ISIS, their recruitment propaganda was quite different than that aimed at the men? They really didn't see what the men saw that made them join ISIS and enthusiastically participate in the most extreme terrorism? They didn't see those videos of kidnappings, beheading, burning alive, throwing gay men off buildings, mass executions of rows of men shot one after the other, those Facebook recruitment posts, the news on the tv, the capture and selling of the Yazidi girls as sex slaves (after Yazidi men and boys had been murdered. We all saw that, how come they didn't? They saw it all right, they wanted in, that's why they went and joined ISIS and wore their burkhas and carried their machine guns. Now the dream of the Caliphate has gone and we are supposed to feel sorry for these women and their supposedly unwitting adventure into terrorism. And now in the news, they are sorry, they've seen the light, and they want to come 'home'. Would they have felt like that if ISIS hadn't been defeated? I don't think so. DNF. Read Ayaan Hirsi Ali instead. And people should look up history. When the British Mandate in Palestine ended, the land was divided 70% to Transjordania renamed Jordan and 30% to Israel. Where are all the demands for the return of the 70%, why have they accepted that Jordan is ok, but not Israel? The answer to that one is blindingly obvious. On trolls and passive-aggressive friends (view spoiler)[Goodreads removed a comment (see below). which was a personal attack on me, not just on this review but on how I used GR. and what sort of person I was. Funny thing is that one of my friends, Majenta, was the only person to have liked this comment. Why would anyone who says they are a friend do this? Weird. This is about the comment. I have a troll who has pointed out to me that essentially not approving of these girls/terrorists and ISIS makes me a bigot. Oh really. That makes him/her a person who approves of murdering gays, thinks it is right women shouldn't not have personal autonomy, wear what they like, have boyfriends and sex if they want to, choose their own marriage partners, behead, torture, burn, bomb and kill anyone who doesn't approve of ISIS brand of Islam (especially other Muslims), subscribes to the idea that terrorism against America and the West and anyone who supports Israel is not just a good thing but a holy one that will earn a reward in heaven. But he is not a bigot. Right? I expect the troll will pop up under various names with insults for a few months at least. They usually do, they seem to think that their rage that consumes them will translate into an equally powerful hurt to me. It doesn't. I either just delete them or use them to write something, like this. (hide spoiler)]

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    ISIS, Syria. They came from everywhere, Libya, Tunisia, Great Britain Germany, these young women came to join a new group that was supposedly creating a new state, a state where being Muslim was accepted, the true and honest way. Why did they come, traveling so far into an unknown future? For a variety of reasons. Some to follow a loved one, some like the Puritans who left England, came for the right to worship their religion in their own way. Some came from radicalization from social media, som ISIS, Syria. They came from everywhere, Libya, Tunisia, Great Britain Germany, these young women came to join a new group that was supposedly creating a new state, a state where being Muslim was accepted, the true and honest way. Why did they come, traveling so far into an unknown future? For a variety of reasons. Some to follow a loved one, some like the Puritans who left England, came for the right to worship their religion in their own way. Some came from radicalization from social media, some from message in their own mosques, some in anger at the Wests treatment . Some were highly educated, some just idealistic, some thought they were striving for a better future, most ended up disillusioned as what started out idealistic, turned to violence and terror. Following several of these women, the author details their fate, the heartbreak of the families they left behind, and the girls reasons for leaving and what instead they found. Syria, has been much in the news lately, and as I hope many have by now realized, the media only prints or shows the terror, but not what led them to this point, never is the whole story disclosed, until now. This book show the how and why we have gotten to where we are now, with ISIS currently defeated, but now with the US withdrawal from Syria, maybe not down and out. Only time will tell. While the author shows compassion for some of these women, she is also brutally honest, even at times critical. Like those who were indoctrinated into cults, so too were these same tactics used by ISIS. What will happen to these girls, yes many are still teenagers, women is still to be told. Now held in camps, their home country's evoking their citizenship, not wanting any of the former ISIS fighters or women back. A terrific book if one wants to know exactly what is happening and what went so wrong and why. ARC from Netgalley.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paige

    This work is as described: the stories of thirteen women from various countries and backgrounds who become women of ISIS. Their heart-wrenching accounts attest the weight on Muslim feminism and gender conflicts. Each with their own story, this book explains the series of events that attracted them to ISIS. The powerful voices of these women not only expose their decisions that led them to ISIS but also reveal the undeniable reality that their choice to join was not always just black and white, A This work is as described: the stories of thirteen women from various countries and backgrounds who become women of ISIS. Their heart-wrenching accounts attest the weight on Muslim feminism and gender conflicts. Each with their own story, this book explains the series of events that attracted them to ISIS. The powerful voices of these women not only expose their decisions that led them to ISIS but also reveal the undeniable reality that their choice to join was not always just black and white, A or B. The chronicles of these women do unveil the political and religious propaganda embroiled, but it also exploits the increasing involvement and pressure of social media that affected many who joined. Chapters alternate between these women, and each story is told in a linear format. At times the author interjects in the middle of a story to afford historical context to their situations, and I found this helpful but at times disrupting to the women’s story that was being presented. There are additional 1-2 page segments that are implanted outside of these chapters (located between the chapters of the women's stories, since it is not directly linked to the women) to provide context to the timeline in regards to important events that are transpiring outside of these women’s lives; for example, in 2015 when a Jordan pilot is captured and ISIS releases the video of him burning alive. This was a 3.5 star for me, rounded up. It seemed to follow an expository format at times, so I felt misguided at various intervals considering this as nonfiction material. Throughout the better last half of this book, the facts and information are often used to promote an opinion or idea. It still would have been instructive and emotionally captivating without these speculative assessments. Also, the last part of the book (Part V), felt rushed and left me without closure on the collapse of the caliphate, making the conclusion of the women’s stories left unsettled. Since it follows the story of thirteen individuals, it was at times hard to keep the characters straight when picking up the book after putting it down. At 50% of the book, there was still a new woman being introduced. Sometimes it felt like pieces of the puzzle were missing, especially to various regions and the politics evolving. Significant events involved, but not limited to: Arab Spring (2011 Arab Uprising), The Syrian Three, 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the al-Qaeda narrative, Raqqa under Assad, Sarah Khan’s campaign, 2012 Ghouta gas attack, the Nusra Front, 1982 Hama rebellion, 2011 Syrian Civil War Many thanks to Random House, NetGalley, and Azadeh Moaveni for this advanced copy in exchange for my honest review. Overall, an enlightening read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jerrie (redwritinghood)

    This was a well-researched and engagingly written look at why young women from many Western countries were persuaded to move to Syria and join ISIS. Like many extremist groups, young and marginalized people were persuaded by propaganda and charismatic leaders. The author tries hard to put herself in the mindset of these young women and is very sympathetic towards them, but this may be the biggest drawback of the book. She seemed to absolve them of their behavior rather then look deeper at indivi This was a well-researched and engagingly written look at why young women from many Western countries were persuaded to move to Syria and join ISIS. Like many extremist groups, young and marginalized people were persuaded by propaganda and charismatic leaders. The author tries hard to put herself in the mindset of these young women and is very sympathetic towards them, but this may be the biggest drawback of the book. She seemed to absolve them of their behavior rather then look deeper at individual motives. Nevertheless, it is a gripping account and inside look at the lives of some women within the ISIS organization.

  5. 5 out of 5

    SheAintGotNoShoes

    A well written easy to read book that tells the stories of 13 different teenagers and women from various countries who left their homes and lives to live in Syria and be part of the caliphate. While the author clearly sides with these women and definitely views them more as victims of society/government/family/male domination rather than cold blooded terrorists, she does criticize ISIS freely. Many reading this book will tend to go one way or the other. The first being ' th A well written easy to read book that tells the stories of 13 different teenagers and women from various countries who left their homes and lives to live in Syria and be part of the caliphate. While the author clearly sides with these women and definitely views them more as victims of society/government/family/male domination rather than cold blooded terrorists, she does criticize ISIS freely. Many reading this book will tend to go one way or the other. The first being ' they got what they deserved ' or ' they were too young and inexperienced and controlled to think things thru before running off to Turkey and Syria ' Each reader has to make up his/her own mind how much sympathy, if any , they want to allot to these 13 young women. I won't get in the middle of any catfights as it is way too easy to join one camp or the other and be blinded to any possible shades of gray. I would have rated this 5 stars rather than the 4 I went with because there are simply way too many women, towns, cities, countries, fighters, borders and organizations to remember. If she would have allotted an entire chapter to each person from start to finish it may have been easier to recall each story. However, she wrote it chapter by chapter on a different person, and you may not see that name again for another 40 pages, and by then you've forgotten where she was from, who she got married to, what country she was in .............

  6. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Mae

    There is some really fascinating and sad stories in this book, but I found the narrative flow a little too muddled. I also got a little confused with who was who at different points, but that may have been the start and stop way I was reading it. There were additional breaks in the narrative to go into further depth of what ISIS was doing at the time, and while others may find that helpful, I mostly skipped over it. What I really appreciated was getting to know these women, what brought them int There is some really fascinating and sad stories in this book, but I found the narrative flow a little too muddled. I also got a little confused with who was who at different points, but that may have been the start and stop way I was reading it. There were additional breaks in the narrative to go into further depth of what ISIS was doing at the time, and while others may find that helpful, I mostly skipped over it. What I really appreciated was getting to know these women, what brought them into extremism and how they fared in the life. It would be interesting to revisit these women in 15 or so years to see how they are still doing.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Currently on the Baillie Gifford Shortlist, this is the story of several women, who travelled to Syria. Some had boyfriends, husbands, or brothers, who had already gone, or who wanted them to accompany, or join, them there. Others thought it would be the ideal place in which to live in a country ruled by Islamic law and to practice their religion the way they wished. Others were naïve, unhappy at home, looking for adventure, enticed or groomed; either on the internet, or in person. All would, fa Currently on the Baillie Gifford Shortlist, this is the story of several women, who travelled to Syria. Some had boyfriends, husbands, or brothers, who had already gone, or who wanted them to accompany, or join, them there. Others thought it would be the ideal place in which to live in a country ruled by Islamic law and to practice their religion the way they wished. Others were naïve, unhappy at home, looking for adventure, enticed or groomed; either on the internet, or in person. All would, fairly quickly, become disillusioned… The women in this book come from various countries, including Syria, Tunisia, Germany and the UK. Their reasons vary, but it is difficult to know what to believe. Undoubtedly, had you asked these young women their reasons before they travelled, they may have been very different from those given once the women were trying to extricate themselves from a situation which had long since seemed exciting or idealistic. Indeed, such dreams seem to have dissipated almost from the moment of arrival. People travelling from around the world, whether of the same religion or not, bring age old prejudices and stereotypes with them. Unfortunately for the British contingent, they seem to have been viewed as good recruits for suicide bombings, as they were seen as unsuitable for fighting. Had they known that before they left, perhaps martyrdom would not have seen so attractive. Whatever the reasons given, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the men had gone to fight and that those women attempting to join ISIS were aware of – and often state that terrorist atrocities are acceptable – the fact that there had been terrible acts committed before they arrived. Heading to a country where innocent people are beheaded seems a bizarre choice, but then most of the choices these young women made are misjudged, badly thought out and ill advised. Talking of which, of interest to readers in the UK will be the story of the four British schoolgirls from East London, including Shamima Begum, whose nationality was stripped by the British government and whose story has changed from stating that she wanted to live with her husband in Holland to later claiming she was raped by him in a bid to reclaim British citizenship. Here really lies the problem with this book. The author is simply too sympathetic to these women and, although she sometimes poses vague questions about the reliability of their claims, she doesn’t push hard enough. Undeniably, this is an interesting look at ISIS through the eyes of female recruits. It is fascinating to learn that religious dress was viewed as a way for young women to rebel in Tunisia, for example. However, overall, I found this left me with as many questions as answers. When the author visits one of the women, Nour, for example, after she had fled Syria and was working a shoe shop, she is clearly distressed by her new life. “It is like living a lie,” she states, her eyes welling with tears, and then argues that the Paris attacks in November 2015 were justified. At times, you feel sympathy for these, often silly, young women, but are then brought up short by the reality of what they – still – believe. As a book this was a really thought provoking read, but I just wish the author had pushed more for answers and explanations and, perhaps, investigated, and questioned, the claims made. As it was, it was hard not to feel her sympathy was not just for their plight, but for the reasons they headed to a war zone in the first place.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Scribe Publications

    In this searing investigation, Moaveni explores the phenomenon of Muslim women — many of them educated, successful, and outwardly Westernised — choosing to travel to Syria in support of jihad ... In concise, visceral vignettes, Moaveni immerses her readers in a milieu saturated with the romantic appeal of violence. The result is a journalistic tour de force that lays bare the inner lives, motivations, and aspirations of her subjects. STARRED REVIEW Publishers Weekly Eloquent, empathetic, insightful — and essential/> In this searing investigation, Moaveni explores the phenomenon of Muslim women — many of them educated, successful, and outwardly Westernised — choosing to travel to Syria in support of jihad ... In concise, visceral vignettes, Moaveni immerses her readers in a milieu saturated with the romantic appeal of violence. The result is a journalistic tour de force that lays bare the inner lives, motivations, and aspirations of her subjects. STARRED REVIEW Publishers Weekly Eloquent, empathetic, insightful — and essential reading. A book that goes beyond slogans and stereotypes on a journey into a world we know too little about, in an attempt to understand young women whose stories startle and sadden. Lyse Doucet, BBC chief international correspondent Azadeh Moaveni offers what is sure to become a modern classic, answering the question of how Muslim women become, as the Western media puts it, “radicalised” ... Moaveni not only provides granular views of particular women as they navigate this sociopolitical minefield but also situates these stories in a broader cultural context, rendering them legible in compelling ways ... I couldn’t put the book down. Kelly Blewett, BookPage Azadeh Moaveni has written a powerful, indispensable book on a challenging subject: the inner lives and motivations of women who joined or supported the Islamic State militant group. It is a great read, digestible and almost novelistic, but it is much more than that. Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS tackles many taboos that have hampered clear-eyed discussion of Islamist extremism in general and ISIS in particular. The book provides an illuminating, much-needed corrective to stock narratives, not only about the group that deliberately and deftly terrified officials and publics across the world, but also about the larger ‘war on terror’ and the often ineffective, even counterproductive policies of Western and Middle Eastern governments. Anne Barnard, New York Times Peeling back layers of gender, Islamophobia, faith, loyalty, and socialisation, Moaveni situates the women’s stories within the larger historical and sociopolitical context of the time. Following 13 women in total, Guest House for Young Widows is an ambitious attempt to understand the attraction of ISIS for many disaffected youth who were ready to believe. Laura Chanoux, Booklist Brilliantly provocative and genuinely eye-opening ... It is truly fascinating as well as being an incredibly well-written work of narrative nonfiction. Alison Huber, Readings Azadeh Moaveni has achieved a feat of reporting to provide a rare glimpse into the private lives of these ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events. Brave, visceral, moving; essential reading for anyone seeking to understand so much of the violence in our troubled world. Ben Rawlence, author of City of Thorns Essential reading. Martha Gill, The Times Forensic yet empathetic … Always nuanced, Azadeh tears up the caricature of psychopaths unfazed by beheadings, and paints a more comprehensible portrait of culturally dislocated girls won over by recruiters who knew exactly which buttons to press. Dani Garavelli, The Herald This narrative nonfiction is written as a pastiche of sorts, vividly painting a picture of the journeys many Muslim women followed during their interactions with ISIS … a cohesive and engaging story. Aisling Philippa, Lip

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lena

    Sad, sobering, devastating, and eye-opening. If I could give it 10 stars, I would.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Donna Davis

    Those of us in the United States don’t have much of a window on the women of ISIS, and I thought this title might help me understand them better. In some ways this proves true, but in the end, I couldn’t finish this book and I can’t recommend it. Thanks go to Net Galley and Random House for letting me read it free and early. Here’s a quote that provides a thesis: "Many of these women were trying, in a twisted way, to achieve dignity and freedom through an embrace of a politics that ended up viol Those of us in the United States don’t have much of a window on the women of ISIS, and I thought this title might help me understand them better. In some ways this proves true, but in the end, I couldn’t finish this book and I can’t recommend it. Thanks go to Net Galley and Random House for letting me read it free and early. Here’s a quote that provides a thesis: "Many of these women were trying, in a twisted way, to achieve dignity and freedom through an embrace of a politics that ended up violating both...The political fractures from which [ISIS] arose have not been fixed. History has shown that unless conditions genuinely change, a new insurgency always arises from the ashes of an old one." Moaveni shares the case studies of individual women that have been drawn to the Islamic State. Although the organization provides its women with a measure of security and protection, promoting higher education—in the service of the organization, of course—and sometimes furnishing jobs, it draws not only women that are desperate for food and shelter, but also women from comfortable middle class backgrounds. Once they are in, they find it difficult to leave. Moaveni demonstrates myriad ways in which women provide essential support for ISIS. There are three things that I liked about this book. The research is well done; the women discussed here provide the reader with individual stories and therefore humanize them; and she acknowledges the disparity between mainstream Islamic belief and ISIS. On the other hand, despite disclaimers within the narrative, I was overcome by a crawly sensation when I realized that the author’s overall purpose is to rationalize the choices made by women within Islamic State. She says they are relatable; I am appalled and unpersuaded. Those that dislike a dictatorial regime should indeed advocate for a better system. How great a risk each person is willing to assume is of course an individual decision. But there is nothing that justifies or mitigates the atrocities visited on innocent people by this dreadful pseudo-religion. When push comes to shove, the only real dilemma for me is whether to provide one star or two in review. The second star is reluctantly assigned on the basis of the writer’s solid research; yet the ideas within it are entirely abhorrent. Never, never, and never.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sheree | Keeping Up With The Penguins

    The wives, widows, and children of ISIS fighters are currently languishing in refugee camps; we’ve all seen the footage on the evening news. That’s what makes Guest House For Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni a particularly timely read, and Scribe was kind enough to send me an early copy for review. In it, a seasoned Middle East reporter explores the questions at the heart of the crisis: what would make a woman leave a cosmopolitan life to become an ISIS bride? Where do we draw the line between vic The wives, widows, and children of ISIS fighters are currently languishing in refugee camps; we’ve all seen the footage on the evening news. That’s what makes Guest House For Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni a particularly timely read, and Scribe was kind enough to send me an early copy for review. In it, a seasoned Middle East reporter explores the questions at the heart of the crisis: what would make a woman leave a cosmopolitan life to become an ISIS bride? Where do we draw the line between victim and conspirator? Is it possible to empathise without being complicit? Guest House For Young Widows challenges you to see these women as humans, not monsters, subject to the same foils and foibles as the rest of us. They reside in the shades of grey between “good” and “evil”, the liminal space that it’s more convenient for us to forget. Their stories are unique, and yet, strangely relatable. My mouth dropped as I read about the push-back some of the girls experienced when they chose to wear the niqab to school: not just at the harshness of their treatment, but also at its familiarity. It echoed my own experiences of institutional punishment for dying my hair and painting my nails as a self-styled teenage rebel. I’m not equating the two experiences, of course, but it really reinforced to me that it is the policing of women’s bodies and expression that is the problem, rather than the nature of the expression itself. So many of the young people in this book were frustrated by broken promises of radical change. Are there lessons we can learn here, say, for the Climate Strikers that aged politicians have failed to mollify? Perhaps. I suggest you read it and find out for yourself. An extended version of this review is available to subscribers at Keeping Up With The Penguins.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jesse Mechler

    I cannot put into words what this book will make you feel. Moaveni does an amazing job educating the reader and sharing the women's stories. It's a necessary read in today's political climate.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    This book is about the unusual plight of women who joined ISIS. The author follows 13 women who were recruited, bullied, motivated, charmed, and mislead into joining the fight to secure an Islamic state in Syria. These girls (often only 15-years-old) were from Tunisia, Syria, Germany, England, and Eastern Asian. Most wanted a more relgious life, freedom from poverty & dysfuction, and a handsome brave husband. Instead, they were married, widowed, remarried and stuck before their next birthday This book is about the unusual plight of women who joined ISIS. The author follows 13 women who were recruited, bullied, motivated, charmed, and mislead into joining the fight to secure an Islamic state in Syria. These girls (often only 15-years-old) were from Tunisia, Syria, Germany, England, and Eastern Asian. Most wanted a more relgious life, freedom from poverty & dysfuction, and a handsome brave husband. Instead, they were married, widowed, remarried and stuck before their next birthday. One soldier bride was pressed into using birth control because ISIS said suicide bombers would be less inclinesd to blow themselves up if they had kids. This is a fascinating look at how history, culture, immigration, economics, and Islamaphobia shaped and eventually ruined these women's lives.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Catelyn Silapachai

    What a fascinating and important book. I couldn't recommend it more. The research is impeccable and clearly draws upon the author's decades of experience as a journalist.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Bridget

    This is another WOW book - I gasped, I cried, I had to put the book down for a few moments every once in a while to just let it all sink in. I am reminded of another book I just read (The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper), where simply because of the This is another WOW book - I gasped, I cried, I had to put the book down for a few moments every once in a while to just let it all sink in. I am reminded of another book I just read (The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper), where simply because of the book's topic, we know that things don't turn out well for these women. And there is a special kind of heartbreak that comes from reading about young girls (with variably bright futures to begin with, to be fair) who we know will eventually get sucked into ISIS and then spit out at the end extremely worse for the wear, if at all. And the level of detail and analyis here is mesmerizing. I started the book and saw that we would be following 13 (!) separate women and thought it was a bit much, but it absolutely wasn't. Each woman is so vividly drawn that it was never difficult to tell them apart as we followed the thread of their lives. And reading about such different women with different life histories gave the author many opportunities to talk about the diverse reasons women joined ISIS in the first place, and what it all means for Islam, milennials, and radicalism in general. This book also does a stellar job of painting the "before" so that we really get a sense for what these women lost and the often impossible choices they faced. A note about the content: I think it's easy to get sensational when you're writing about ISIS, but this book thankfully never does. There are really terrible things that happen in this book but the women as human beings take center stage and the author is tremendously respectful to their lived experiences.

  16. 5 out of 5

    gillyweed

    Azadeh Moaveni’s “Guest House for Young Widows” cements her reputation as one of the leading journalists covering the modern Middle East - with particular emphasis on the female experience. In this book, she intricately and empathetically reconstructs the paths to ISIS of thirteen young women originating in the Middle East and North Africa, and in diaspora communities in Europe. As she does so, she also charts the evolution of perceptions of the caliphate and its members, both from within, and w Azadeh Moaveni’s “Guest House for Young Widows” cements her reputation as one of the leading journalists covering the modern Middle East - with particular emphasis on the female experience. In this book, she intricately and empathetically reconstructs the paths to ISIS of thirteen young women originating in the Middle East and North Africa, and in diaspora communities in Europe. As she does so, she also charts the evolution of perceptions of the caliphate and its members, both from within, and without. The result is a narrative that is remarkable in scope, related in a memoir style that facilitates genuine understanding for the reader, while stopping short of asking for sympathy. Moaveni remains, as ever, the consummate professional in this regard — with a stated intention to shed light on the circumstances that led each of these women (and, indeed, young girls) to seek out the Islamic State, or other Islamic militant groups, such as al-Nusra, she has surely produced here one of the most nuanced and responsible documentations of the conflict thus far. I will gladly pay for Moaveni’s Pulitzer nomination fee myself, if I’m being frank — by rights, “Guest House for Young Widows” is a shoe-in.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Awallens

    It was hard for me to think of something to write for this book, but I think I should. This book follows 13 women from Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Africa and a mention of one from the US who immigrated to Syria to be wives of Isis members. The stories are divided up and each woman’s story is told fairly cyclically throughout the book. The women’s stories are not told in full at one time, but you follow them throughout time. There are also timelines of what is happening in the US, Syria It was hard for me to think of something to write for this book, but I think I should. This book follows 13 women from Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Africa and a mention of one from the US who immigrated to Syria to be wives of Isis members. The stories are divided up and each woman’s story is told fairly cyclically throughout the book. The women’s stories are not told in full at one time, but you follow them throughout time. There are also timelines of what is happening in the US, Syria, Europe, and around the world throughout the book and that is broken up as well. So you will have a timeline of events, then here with the women are doing. I totally understand why the author did this, and found it worked, though I found the women blaring together at times. I wonder if that’s what the author meant for me to do. After a while I had difficulty remembering who was who, but could remember the individual stories. This book was hard to read because there are no clear answers. Should women wear the Hijab or not? Did Isis start as a legitimate organization and then turn violent or not? Did the women know what they were doing when they left, and can they be rehabilitated? Many countries, including the US and Britain have decided that they cannot and the women are stuck in the middle east. They have no citizenship and can’t do anything. Countries have basically washed their hands of the women and the children that they bore. There are no clear answers as to what should be done, but the women are also in limbo. I will think about this book for a long time to come.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Karen Lewis

    Being a teenager is complicated. Teens are notorious for rebelling—in fashion, music and activities. Add complexities of being a person of color in historically racist Great Britain or Germany, or growing up Muslim in an era of rampant anti-Muslim discrimination. Even in Tunisia, which is a Muslim-majority country, teens coming of age in the years immediately before and after the 2011 Arab Spring found themselves snared in a confusing time of political instability, economic strain, and challengi Being a teenager is complicated. Teens are notorious for rebelling—in fashion, music and activities. Add complexities of being a person of color in historically racist Great Britain or Germany, or growing up Muslim in an era of rampant anti-Muslim discrimination. Even in Tunisia, which is a Muslim-majority country, teens coming of age in the years immediately before and after the 2011 Arab Spring found themselves snared in a confusing time of political instability, economic strain, and challenging rifts between religious and secular practices. Such is the backdrop for Azadeh Moaveni’s riveting, in-depth study of young women who searched for purpose by joining the Islamic State (IS) also known as ISIS or ISIL. Moaveni—a journalist who has reported on the Middle East for two decades—profiles thirteen young women who grew up in Germany, Great Britain, Tunisia, or Syria. What they have in common is their choice to become muhajirat, to join the jihad in Iraq and Syria. Many later became disillusioned and discovered contradictions with the pure teachings of Islam and atrocities they witnessed while in the IS world. Most of their jihadist husbands were killed while fighting. There are no easy answers here but the author probes essential life themes and nuances of current political-history in the making. For readers interested in recent history of Tunisia, Syria, Iraq and the rise of trans-national political movements, Guest House for Young Widows offers unprecedented insights into the lives of people behind the headlines. This book is an essential addition to library and academic shelves. Readers and book groups willing to dive into many complex themes presented here will find provocative ideas for discussion and peace-building. These notes are based on an ARC from #NetGalley and the publisher. Full review to come on BookBrowse.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Amy Raffensperger

    While I do not agree with this author’s conclusions, one of the very few policy issues I agree with the Trump administration on is the refusal to repatriate US citizens who joined ISIS, this book gives an excellent look into their lives and reasons for joining. An excellent read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    TJL

    This book makes the mistake of, on several occasions, veering from "I want you to understand why these women made the choices that they did" to "I want you to sympathize and excuse why these women did what they did". And when you are writing a book about women who made a choice to join ISIS, an Islamic terrorist group responsible for: genocide (the Yazidis), disturbingly gruesome executions, bombings of civilian locations (Manchester, for instance), human trafficking (women have This book makes the mistake of, on several occasions, veering from "I want you to understand why these women made the choices that they did" to "I want you to sympathize and excuse why these women did what they did". And when you are writing a book about women who made a choice to join ISIS, an Islamic terrorist group responsible for: genocide (the Yazidis), disturbingly gruesome executions, bombings of civilian locations (Manchester, for instance), human trafficking (women have been sold into prostitution and systemically raped by ISIS), and cult-like brainwashing (they've had their KIDS murder prisoners to teach them how) ...then you need to be very, very careful in asking me to sympathize with these women and their choices- especially when all it takes is for me to remember that time I read The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State and maybe redirect my sympathy to the women who were getting raped, beaten, and murdered by the people these women made a CHOICE to join up with. You gotta be real, REAL careful, because it's not something that's going to work unless you're writing for an audience of people that are already predisposed to sympathizing with them. It's a personal tic of mine that I am extremely sensitive to the excusing and minimizing of women's crimes in comparison to men's (i.e. "the men are evil, they BRAINWASHED the women, they MANIPULATED the women- ergo the women cannot be held responsible for their crimes"). And when I get a whiff of it in a book about ISIS, it's not gonna go down well.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    When it is hot as heck outside and there is nothing cool to do but reading as everything else makes you end up a sweaty mess, it is the perfect day for a speed reader. I received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸. A gripping account of thirteen women who joined and endured, and, in some cases, es When it is hot as heck outside and there is nothing cool to do but reading as everything else makes you end up a sweaty mess, it is the perfect day for a speed reader. I received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸. A gripping account of thirteen women who joined and endured, and, in some cases, escaped life in the Islamic State—based on years of immersive reporting by a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Among the many books trying to understand the terrifying rise of ISIS, none has given voice to the women in the organization; but women were essential to the establishment of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s caliphate. Responding to promises of female empowerment and social justice, and calls to aid the plight of fellow Muslims in Syria, thousands of women emigrated from the United States and Europe, Russia and Central Asia, from across North Africa and the rest of the Middle East to join the Islamic State. These were the educated daughters of diplomats, trainee doctors, teenagers with straight-A averages, as well as working-class drifters and desolate housewives, and they set up makeshift clinics and schools for the Islamic homeland they envisioned. Guest House for Young Widows charts the different ways women were recruited, inspired, or compelled to join the militants. Emma from Hamburg, Sharmeena and three high school friends from London, Nour, a religious dropout from Tunis: all found rebellion or community in political Islam and fell prey to sophisticated propaganda that promised them a cosmopolitan adventure and a chance to forge an ideal Islamic community where they could live devoutly without fear of stigma or repression. It wasn’t long before the militants exposed themselves as little more than violent criminals, more obsessed with power than the tenets of Islam, and the women of ISIS were stripped of any agency, perpetually widowed and remarried, and ultimately trapped in a brutal, lawless society. The fall of the caliphate only brought new challenges to women no state wanted to reclaim. Moaveni’s exquisite sensitivity and rigorous reporting makes these forgotten women indelible and illuminates the turbulent politics that set them on their paths. This book was a scary read and it was scary because it was TRUE TO LIFE. and because I live in a city that has been noted as being a place for radicals to be recruited. (We have had some young men become infamous for their crimes overseas - and one was Grekke Orthodox before he converted.) The women in this book are fascinating and the research is top-notch. A lot of library patrons don't like non-fiction as they feel it is boring, but this book reads like a dream - it flows expertly from one subject to another and it was actually an easy read. This is an important book to read - it is not too feminist to be enjoyable. (I can quantify and qualify that comment if asked .. but that would take at least ten thousand words that do not belong in a book review!!) This book is a great book club pick, for sure.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mike Morris

    Written with real compassion. If your goal is moving toward real understanding, rather than safely distancing yourself from these young women and their families, this is well worth a read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    Amazing book about the women that joined ISIS. It is very detailed and at times confusing. However, very worth it if you want to learn about them with open eyes. So sad and sobering. Amazing piece of journalism

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Gray

    A fascinating and important book that challenges the readers to look at the women of ISIS with clear eyes. Moaveni has chosen 13 women to represent the vast array of those who joined voluntarily or were dragooned into the caliphate. She winds their voices with historical information and data points that help explain parts of their individual stories. At least one of these women will resonate with you. It's a cautionary tale in so many ways. As another reviewer commented, it would be fascinating A fascinating and important book that challenges the readers to look at the women of ISIS with clear eyes. Moaveni has chosen 13 women to represent the vast array of those who joined voluntarily or were dragooned into the caliphate. She winds their voices with historical information and data points that help explain parts of their individual stories. At least one of these women will resonate with you. It's a cautionary tale in so many ways. As another reviewer commented, it would be fascinating to see where they've ended up and their views 5, 10, 15, or 20 years from now. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. Excellent work.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rose

    I can't say I liked reading about women who joined ISIS, per se, however it was an interesting look into their minds and their lives and what motivated them to join such a militant group. The history of what was happening at the time was a nice addition, however I felt that perhaps it could have come before or after each women's story rather than right in the middle of it. Overall, it was educational and I think it is a book that needs to be read. I would like to thank Netgalley and the publishe I can't say I liked reading about women who joined ISIS, per se, however it was an interesting look into their minds and their lives and what motivated them to join such a militant group. The history of what was happening at the time was a nice addition, however I felt that perhaps it could have come before or after each women's story rather than right in the middle of it. Overall, it was educational and I think it is a book that needs to be read. I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy free of charge. This is my honest and unbiased opinion of it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    Our author takes us on quite a journey, through a story that has generally been untold; the women of ISIS. Who they were before joining, why they joined, and then what happened to them as a result. The who they are is most interesting maybe because they come from a wide range of backgrounds. And what brought them in varies a lot, too. Its obviously by its own nature a very polarizing subject to cover and I suppose is a book that could be met with a sort of scorn in concept. At the same time, it' Our author takes us on quite a journey, through a story that has generally been untold; the women of ISIS. Who they were before joining, why they joined, and then what happened to them as a result. The who they are is most interesting maybe because they come from a wide range of backgrounds. And what brought them in varies a lot, too. Its obviously by its own nature a very polarizing subject to cover and I suppose is a book that could be met with a sort of scorn in concept. At the same time, it's a brilliantly curious objective, to want to know why women joined ISIS, and what their lives were like before during and after. I am among, I think some, who at times took some offense to how the book is written. Many have given a low star review I think for what feels like a one sided perspective overly sympathetic to these girls, while in an imbalanced way, our author seems overly critical of Europe and the west. And at times I thought to myself maybe I'd give the book a low rating for this lack of balance. But the author, while sympathetic of the girls and while critical of many European nations through the lense of these women, never gave praise or sympathy to ISIS itself. In fact, of ISIS she is persistantly critical, separating the women from the movement itself in terms of treatment, an important distinction. This I can respect. I think the author makes an honest attempt to give the perspective of the women she covers. And if that was the case, it would be rather sympathetic toward them and critical of the west if truly from their perspective, wouldn't it be? I think it's worth also considering the perspective of the reader coming into this book in giving it its rating, and noting how much the experience could vary. If one is to recommend just one book concerning middle eastern conflict, or more specifically, a book about ISIS, this is definitely not the book to recommend. But for the person who has read several books concerning the subject matter, it is definitely a book worth reading. On its own, too one sided. As a book in a heap, it helps complete a very big picture. There's a lot to disagree with in terms of perspectives here, represented probably as honestly as possible but without commentary. This ultimately makes the book more dramatic. It's a very educational piece, from the study of what leads someone to extremism in general. What brings someone into a violent movement. I did not feel much sympathy for many of the women covered, but I did come away feeling like I had learned a great amount from their stories. I found myself appreciating being able to know perspectives that I often disagreed with. If the author interrupted her representation of the women covered to give more counter points, it might have had more immediate satisfaction to the reader, but at a failure of the overall objective. I think the book would have been less educational for me. And that's why I got this one; to learn more about people I didn't know about, and to try from some level to understand what their motivations were in joining such a movement.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    As a European woman who takes everyday freedoms and privileges for granted, it's hard to get my head around why any woman would choose to give up those freedoms willingly by moving to live in - what seems to those of us outside - a highly repressive 'state' such as that espoused by ISIS. In 'Guest House for Young Widows' Azadeh Moaveni helps us to understand why women from around the world - but especially Europe and North Africa - willingly went to join a murderous and extremist organisation. T As a European woman who takes everyday freedoms and privileges for granted, it's hard to get my head around why any woman would choose to give up those freedoms willingly by moving to live in - what seems to those of us outside - a highly repressive 'state' such as that espoused by ISIS. In 'Guest House for Young Widows' Azadeh Moaveni helps us to understand why women from around the world - but especially Europe and North Africa - willingly went to join a murderous and extremist organisation. Through interviews with many women who gave up their homes and often their families and friends to join ISIS, she lifts the lid on a heap of sometimes unexpected motivations. It's easy to dismiss the women who went to Syria as either brainwashed and 'groomed' fools or love-sick dreamers in search of a warrior husband, and indeed Moaveni does address those tabloid media cliches. But she also shows us so many more reasons why women going to Syria did so in search of something better and purer than they had at home. It's hard to imagine that many women were looking for a holier, more Islamic place to practice their religion without repression from local governments or societies. It's counter-intuitive to what most of us think, but being told you CAN'T cover your hair or your face can be as upsetting and repressive as being told that you MUST. Through the personal tales of a wide range or women - some anonymous, some named including the Bethnal Green schoolgirls - Moaveni helps us to understand (if not entirely sympathise) with why these girls and women signed up for one of the biggest social experiments of the 21st century. In the course of doing that, Moaveni may make some readers uncomfortable by appearing to be sympathetic to their cases if not their cause and I don't find that unacceptable. I read a review that claimed she had blamed the Western powers for creating all the problems behind the rise of ISIS and that's a bit hard to swallow in total but she does have some very good points about outside meddling in the affairs of so-called 'secular' Middle Eastern and North African countries. On the whole though, regardless of whether there is bias or not, there's still a LOT of great insight in this book and it's well worth a read. Some things may well be rather simplified but the reader can draw their own conclusions based on the evidence. One small aside on an error that will really need editing in later editions. The author incorrectly states that the Partition of India took place in 1949. It didn't. That was 1947. The error doesn't impact the stories told but does make me a little more nervous about overall accuracy. A proof-reader or editor should have picked that up.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    This book is breathtaking, in large part because it deals with the complex issue of agency so carefully and deliberately. It follows thirteen women, all of whom join ISIS for one reason or another. The reasons are diverse - as somebody who has only ever perceived ISIS in a single way, reading about these women's different perceptions of the community they were joining was really fascinating. And the book doesn't shy away from really messy issues like religion, feminism, politics, and accountabil This book is breathtaking, in large part because it deals with the complex issue of agency so carefully and deliberately. It follows thirteen women, all of whom join ISIS for one reason or another. The reasons are diverse - as somebody who has only ever perceived ISIS in a single way, reading about these women's different perceptions of the community they were joining was really fascinating. And the book doesn't shy away from really messy issues like religion, feminism, politics, and accountability. It brings up a lot of questions, and doesn't offer a lot of answers, but it does a great job of illustrating the complexity of the issue with ISIS, and of wanting a space to live one's religion, and how religion is often used as a smokescreen for power grabs, corruption, and violence. I loved this bit from the book: "To the public, [these women] were either naive jihadi brides or calculating monsters. But most of the women in this book were neither passive nor predatory, and trying to pin down their degree of agency seemed to be only one line of inquiry, and certainly not the most revealing. Some collaborated or acted knowingly; some were so young that, despite the outward appearance of deliberate choice, they were not mature enough to exercise anything approaching adult judgment." It goes on to say that until we understand the lived experiences of women in the Middle East in social and political contexts, we can't fully understand the reasons that women were (and are) drawn to ISIS. That you have to understand how poverty, political instability, repression, and abuse affect these women in unique ways, and the author does a great job of tackling these specific issues in relation to the thirteen women covered in the book. It's super interesting, and I think it would make for a great book club pick for people who love to have complicated conversations about political issues!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Hunt

    Gosh, I have to say that I really know so very little about a lot of this stuff! So much new information here and a lot to think about. The other reviews say things much more eloquently, but essentially this follows 13 different women/girls from around the world that ended up joining ISIS. The reasons are varied - some wooed by ISIS bloggers or internet prophets, some following loved ones, some looking for a homeland to practice their religion freely - every story is a bit different. Anyhow, it Gosh, I have to say that I really know so very little about a lot of this stuff! So much new information here and a lot to think about. The other reviews say things much more eloquently, but essentially this follows 13 different women/girls from around the world that ended up joining ISIS. The reasons are varied - some wooed by ISIS bloggers or internet prophets, some following loved ones, some looking for a homeland to practice their religion freely - every story is a bit different. Anyhow, it just sheds a light on what may have led these particular women/girls on a path that was so destructive. Very eye opening and interesting. My only complaint was that it was difficult to keep all the people and places straight. I understand that the entire book was written with a chronological flow, but it was really hard to remember who was who when a new section popped up. And, I really would have liked more information on how they all ended up. I think it might have been in there in bits and pieces but was a little hard to follow. All in all, super interesting though.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Motto

    Disturbing and unsettling. My emotions are all over the place on this one. I do feel this book could have been edited in a way that made it flow more smoothly. The book jumps around quite a bit so I had trouble following the individual women. Regardless, this is an extremely thought provoking book that I think will have most readers re-examining their ideas about the entire situation in the Middle East.

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