Book Review: Disfigured by Rania Al-Baz

disfiguredPerhaps you remember in April 2004 when Saudi Arabia’s popular television journalist Rania Al-Baz made headlines worldwide when after a savage beating by her husband she allowed photographs of her battered and bruised face to be shown in print and on television,  bringing for a time the problem of violence against women to the forefront of public attention,  at least for a moment.   I do remember those headlines, of course,  though that was about the time that my late partner Joel was admitted to the hospital for the Last time and I don’t recall that I gave the story more than a passing notice.   But having read and reviewed Dr. Qanta Ahmed‘s In The Land of Invisible Women a memoir of her experiences as a Western-raised Muslim taking a job as an ICU physician in Rihajd  just last December,  I found my interest piqued in this auto-biography by Ms. Al-Baz.   Originally published in Arabic a few years back,  Disfigured is  slim trade paperback, in an English translation by Catherine Spencer is a new 2009 release from Olive Branch Press of Northampton, Massachusetts.

Ms. Al-Baz is a gifted writer,  or at the very least she is made to seem so by Ms. Spencer’s extremely eloquent and readable English translation.   The book begins with the brutal beating in April 2004,  then procedes to tell the author’s life story from birth to present.   Where Dr. Ahmed’s book was very interesting as an outsider’s perspective of the on-the-ground reality of life in the Kingdom today,  Ms. Al-Baz is very much a native citizen of Saudi Arabia and takes very great pains to make clear that she loves and is loyal to her country and to Islam.   She further states most emphatically that wife-beating is not in any way whatsoever condoned by that faith and that she is in no way campaigning against the Saudi government  (indeed she has received overt and very public support from the head of her provincial government) but only against brutal violence which is inexcusable and must not be allowed to happen.

I was honestly fascinated to read this young woman’s history and clearly and eloquently stated belifes and purposes for her activism.    I do believe that Disfigured quite frankly provides a much more useful look at the reality of life in the Arab world than Dr. Ahmed’s genuinely excellent memoir.    While both of these books are very much Highly Recommended,   if you are only going to read one of them,   I would recommend you choose Disfigured.   Very Highly Recommended.  Not to Be Missed.   Buy now $11.95