22 July 2015

Review: Guests of the Sheik An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village

Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi VillageGuests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was not quite sure what to expect when I started reading this book but I loved it. Absolutely! Elizabeth Warnock Fernea recounts her visit with her newly wed husband, both Americans, immerse themselves into the daily lives of an Iraqi village. She offers a glimpse into the daily lives of the women there during her stay in 1957/1958.

Her husband, Bob, is working towards his Ph.D. in anthropology. They are visitors of the Sheik and as such they do have some allowances (like a refrigerator and a servant hand picked by the Sheik). However she describes their modest little mud hut and its lovely garden. She describes the difficulty at first of submitting to wearing an abaya. She describes too times when she was grateful for the anonymity it provided.

She recounts observing some parts of major religious festivities. I found myself thinking some of those prayer services and festivals really did not sound too different from those of my own.

Fernea shares stories of the women. Their marital problems, while different on many levels, are also similar to many of ours: health, financial, love. Family is a huge part of life there, as is social standings.

So many things were different and yet so many were similar enough to bring me in and make me feel close to these women too. I was sadden by the memory of a death within the tribe. I was excited when Seema was pregnant. I worried for Lalia when she and Fernea were out with a non relative male.

In all the book was written quite well.

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