GUESTS OF THE SHEIK by Elizabeth W. Fernea


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If the first two years of married life are spent in a small tribal settlement in Southern Iraq, as this author's were, the ""honeymoon"" record is bound to turn out a bit differently from a Niagara idyll. To begin with, the village of El Nahra was not exactly geared to Western comforts or to the Western psyche either -- particularly, a female one. In a determined effort to be accepted for her researcher-husband's sake, the author had to learn to ""un-emancipate herself -- to hide behind the abayah (veil), and to sacrifice male company, her husband's often included. The initial strangeness and resentment she felt took months to evolve into an excited interest in the people. Spending the better part of every day with the women, she tried and tried to understand, to be understood, and eventually learned to be a gracious, if infuriated, object of their laughter. Although she is not, as she admits, a trained anthropologist, her careful observations of harim wives and sheiks, of festivals, gypsies and mud huts, cannot help but become a case study of the village women. The ""personal experience"" part of her narrative saves it from becoming a tract in field-observation, but it is not enough to make the book of widespread general interest. Still El Nahra certainly qualifies as one of those ""faraway places with the strange-sounding names"" and, in a clinical way, the tale bears out its promise.

Publisher: Doubleday