In Syria, before its civil war, she documents a complex society in the midst of soul searching about its place in the world and about the role of women. In Lebanon, she documents a country that on the surface is freer than other Arab nations but whose women must balance extreme standards of self-presentation with Islamic codes of virtue. In Abu Dhabi, Zoepf reports on a generation of Arab women who've found freedom in work outside the home. In Saudi Arabia she chronicles driving protests and women entering the retail industry for the first time. In the aftermath of Tahrir Square, she examines the crucial role of women in Egypt's popular uprising.
Deeply informed, heartfelt, and urgent, Excellent Daughters brings us a new understanding of the changing Arab societies--from 9/11 to Tahrir Square to the rise of ISIS--and gives voice to the remarkable women at the forefront of this change.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-10-12
- Reviewer: Staff
Zoepf, a journalist who has covered the Middle East for the New York Times, fluidly merges memoir with reportage while showing the Arab world from a unique perspective: that of an American woman who managed to win uncommonly intimate access to urban Muslim women in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates between 2004 and 2011. Zoepfs Arabic, along with her glimpses behind closed doors of womens spaces, lends authority to her lucid accounts of Islamic history, practices, and controversies. Though she covers some widely publicized events, such as the 2007 honor killing of a Damascus woman and the 1990 protests in which Riyadh women defied Saudi law by driving cars, her focus is on day-to-day aspects of womens lives: the showfa (the viewing, literally, of a newly engaged Saudi woman), the hijab, the Qubaisiate (a fundamentalist womens prayer group), the difficulties of finding employment, and the obsession with female chastity (including forcible virginity testing). Mindful that strange as Id found it at first, life in this women-only world must have its own consolations, her work acknowledges that some women accept and find value in strict traditional mores. In her absorbing, window-opening book, Zoepf reveals the variety of womens lives and interests away from political headlines and conventional stereotypes, and their power, often by small steps, to transform their world. (Jan.)