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Review: In the Land of Invisible Women

When I think about books, there are usually two qualities I think about — the strength of the story and the strength of the writing.  In most cases, both qualities are good or both qualities are bad.  This wasn’t the case for In the Land of Invisible Women, a memoir by Dr. Quanta A. Ahmed.  While I liked the topic and story of the book, I found the bad writing distracting, and wouldn’t recommend the book to anyone who has a problem with awkward writing.

Ahmed is a Western trained British Muslim doctor who, through problems with her visa, is forced to take a position at a hospital in Saudi Arabia after she finished her medical training.  Ahmed initially views this as an adventure and a way for her to more fully explore her Muslim heritage.  When she arrives in Saudi Arabia, she is immediately faced with discrimination and overbearing rules on behavior that the religious rulers of Saudi Arabia force on all citizens.

I’ve always been interested in the situation that women find themselves in religiously-controlled countries in the Middle East.  While it’s disheartening to read about the many ways that men and women are oppressed in a perverse interpretation of religious doctrine, I was fascinated by the ways that the Saudi women Ahmed met during her time in the Kingdom learned to live with these oppressive rules.  In fact, I though the people Ahmed met while in the Kingdom were often more fascinating than Ahmed herself, simply because of the way that their worldview is so entirely different than mine.  It was cool to hear their voices throughout the memoir.

Unfortunately, the writing in the book is frustrating.  raych at books i done read wrote a pretty scathing review of this book that sums up the writing problem pretty clearly — “Ahmed deliberately makes her language inaccesible. Or rather, she renders with purpose her prose to be obtuse.”  Ahmed is a doctor, and the book reads like it was written by a doctor.  There are way to many adverbs, the descriptions of clothing constantly rely on brand names (seriously, so many Gucci purses), and Ahmed can’t seem to call Saudi women anything but beautiful.  The awkward writing distracts from the story, and I can only think that my own personal interest in the topic kept me going.  Writing like this on a topic that I was predisposed to be disinterested in would have made me put the book down.

If you like this topic, I think this memoir gives a fascinating look inside the world of the Saudi Kingdom, and what it’s like to be a part of that world.  However, if the topic seems iffy to you, the writing simply isn’t good enough to pull you through.

Other Reviews: books i done read; Book Addiction; She Reads Books (a book interview, review is at the bottom)

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Andi December 27, 2008, 7:13 pm

    Oooh, distracting writing makes me nuts!! And such a shame since it sounds like such an interesting topic. Alas, I don’t know that I’m interested enough to overlook the awkwardness.

  • Kim L December 27, 2008, 9:11 pm

    That is too bad that the writing turned you off to this book, it does sound like an interesting topic! I hate when those sorts of things happen.

  • Kim December 27, 2008, 11:05 pm

    Andi: Yeah, the book is promising in a lot of ways, and I was looking forward to it a lot. At first the writing was fine, but after awhile it got repetitive and I started noticing the, well, awkwardness of it.

    Kim L: Me too! I’m glad I read the book because I did enjoy it, but I know people who have a thing for writing wouldn’t be able to enjoy it.

  • Sandra December 28, 2008, 12:33 pm

    That’s too bad, I love reading books written by doctors. I would still like to read this but will borrow it from the library if they have it.

  • Kim December 28, 2008, 11:53 pm

    Sandra: I was frustrated that the writing wasn’t better. I’d say get it from the library, mostly because I don’t think it’s a book one might want to re-read.

  • bermudaonion December 30, 2008, 7:57 am

    Thanks for the review – I know to skip this one now. Awkward writing drives me to distraction.

  • Kim December 30, 2008, 2:59 pm

    bermudaonion: Read raych’s review, it’s much more hilarious than mine and gives some good samples of Ahmed’s writing style.

  • regularrumination December 31, 2008, 2:15 pm

    I haven’t read this particular memoir, but I found the same to be true of Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. The story was amazing, but it’s clear that Greg Mortenson did not write it. It was written by the reporter David Oliver Relin and his writing was so clunky and frustrating that I almost couldn’t finish reading it.

  • meg89 January 1, 2009, 6:02 pm

    I’m of the opinion that the writing is more important to the story than the storyline. Of course, something has to happen eventually, but I’ve seen some books go a long way with a good description!

  • Kim January 1, 2009, 10:33 pm

    regularrumination: I’ve heard similar things about Three Cup of Tea. Good books that suffer from inadequate writing always make me a little sad.

    meg89: Yes, some books to float by on just the writing. I can’t think of one off the top of my head, but it’s been known to happen 🙂

  • execution for pee wee July 23, 2009, 8:43 pm

    any updates coming ?