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A Review of

Dreams Of Trespass

by Fatima Mernissi

 

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Summary

Fatima Mernissi, a Muslim feminist, describes what it was like to grow up in a Moroccan household in the 1940's and 1950's. Cover

 

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Fact Sheet

Title

Dreams Of Trespass: Tales Of A Harem Girlhood

Author

Fatima Mernissi

ISBN

0-201-48937-6

Publisher

Perseus Books

Category

Non-Fiction: Near Eastern Culture

Rating

StarStarStarStarStar

Number of Pages

242

Published In

1994

 

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Description

In this book, Fatima Mernissi describes what it was like to grow up in the harem of a Moroccan household during the 1940's and early 1950's. She describes a world in which the family employs a doorman to prevent the women from leaving the house without permission from their husbands, a world in which an extended family of four households all live under a single roof.

Dreams Of Trespass descrribes the family's culture on many levels. It speaks of the women's beauty secrets, what the family does for fun together in the evenings, the experience of living in a home where one's father has multiple lives, the political landscape of French colonization and World War II, the music and movies of Arabic pop culture, and folk tales.

Although Mernissi writes with a clearly feminist point of view, she still speaks fondly of her childhood and the time spent with the extended family. She honors her roots while also pointing out what she feels are flaws with that lifestyle.

On one level, this is the simple autobiography of a girl who lived in a distinct culture and shares her experiences with the rest of us. The anecdotes of Mernissi's childhood adventures are endearing. On the other hand, it is a strong social commentary on the cultural practice of effectively imprisoning women in their homes.

 

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Is It Right for You?

 

You Will Probably Enjoy This Book If...

  • You enjoy books that you can read while relaxing, such as at bedtime.
  • You would be interested in reading a woman's perspective on what it was like to grow up in Morocco in the 1940's.
  • You would like to learn about the reality of the harem lifestyle and how it differs from the pervasive fantasies many Westerners have about harems.
  • You enjoy learning about a culture directly from someone who grew up in it, rather than from an outside observer.

 

This Book Probably Isn't Right for You If...

  • You're looking for a book that talks about how dancing fits into a Near Eastern culture.
  • You want to read about what modern-day cultures are like, rather than those of half a century ago.

 

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What I Liked, What I Didn't

 

What I Liked:

  • This book is written in plain, everyday language. It is not weighted down with pompous scholarly jargon.
  • This book is absorbing enough to free the mind from the stress of the outside world.
  • Unlike some of the other books about the restrictions that Muslim women are forced to live under, this book gives a balanced perspective: both the good and the bad.
  • Although Mernissi does speak out against the restrictions women endured in the culture of her childhood, the book is not one-sided. It tells of affection for family members and fond memories. It acknowledges hardships, but doesn't dwell on them.
  • The book feels as though it offers a realistic glimpse of Mernissi's childhood world.
  • I learned something of the history of Morocco, particularly of the French colonial era.

 

What I Didn't Like:

  • Although the book contains a number of photographs, they appear to have been selected primarily for their artistic composition rather than their value in illustrating the text.
  • The photos are small in size, and in many cases the artistic effects of foreground, shadow, or whatever makes it difficult for me to see the elements of the picture that I'm particularly interested in seeing.

 

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Conclusion

I would highly recommend this book to any student of Middle Eastern dance or culture who would like to understand the lifestyle of Muslim society just a little better. It's easy and relaxing to read, but teaches so much. Few books can deliver well on both criteria, but this one does.

At the same time, it's important to keep it in perspective. This book refers to what the author's girlhood was like in the 1940's and 1950's. So although this book provides valuable insight on the lifestyle of Muslim women, readers need to remember that societies are constantly changing, and we shouldn't assume that Morocco is still like this today.

 

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Disclosures

There is nothing to disclose. I have never had any contact with anyone associated with this book.

 

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