A debut memoir recounts a woman’s experiences living in Kuwait as the U.S. ambassador’s wife.
In her book, Silliman recalls that she had always been fascinated by the Middle East. In 1976, while only 16 years old, she traveled to Izmir, Turkey, as an exchange student. And in 1979, during her junior year at Tufts University, she was studying in Cairo when radical students stormed the American Embassy in Iran, taking hostages. After working for a Saudi research company based in Washington, D.C., as a reporter, she earned a master’s degree from the University of Chicago in Middle Eastern Studies. Silliman worked in the State Department for nearly 15 years, and during that time, she met her husband, Doug. When he became the ambassador to Kuwait, she moved there with him and her two sons in 2014. Even though the author had been visiting Muslim countries for nearly 40 years, she still encountered the shock of Kuwait’s cultural restrictions, especially regarding the role of women in society. On the one hand, she found Kuwait impressively progressive: Women routinely worked, drove cars, voted, and about 70 percent of the students at Kuwait University were female. But in other ways, women suffered from pervasive inequality, often institutionalized by law. The author was struck by the relatively strict segregation of men and women—women rarely appeared in public with their husbands. In her engrossing book, Silliman reflects deeply on the historical, religious, and cultural sources of this intriguing paradox. While Kuwaiti women pine for—and often bravely battle for—greater freedom and respect, many embrace the segregation of men and women, if not on traditional grounds, then as an instrument that provides safety and protection. The author writes from a unique perspective—an American with both a personal and scholarly experience of the region cultivated over decades. As a result, her ruminations are both impressively informed and profoundly incisive, delivered in a gracefully meditative prose free of any peremptory political agenda. Silliman achieves a sensitive portrayal of Kuwait’s complex, even contradictory, encounters with modernity.
An insightful peek into a Muslim country’s treatment of women.