Mernissi is as bracing and intelligent as Scheherazade—and her grasp of sexual politics, both East and West, is not just...

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SCHEHERAZADE GOES WEST

DIFFERENT CULTURES, DIFFERENT HAREMS

A savvy treatment of that ultimate piece of emotional baggage: sex.

“Why did the enlightened West, obsessed with democracy and human rights, discard Scheherazade’s brainy sensuality and political message in their versions of the tales?” wonders Mernissi (Dreams of Trespass, 1994, etc.). In the Middle East, after all, her cerebralness was the essence of her sexual attraction. The Eastern harem and the Western approach to sexuality may share needs of power and control, then they diverge radically: How in one cultural landscape sex is associated with obsequiousness and a decided lack of intellectual exchange, while in the other “the most efficient weapon with which to arouse a man is words” and the contest of self-determination. This sparks the author’s exploration into the psychic differences of men, East and West. Hers is a decidedly cerebral trip in itself, delving into the cosmic and spiritual dimensions of belly-dancing, the narratives of Persian miniatures, the paintings of Ingres, Kant’s notion of the sublime and the place of women, Poe’s assassination of Scheherazade, the feminism of Shirin in the Iranian Shahnameh, and (most ludicrous to Mernissi) the “bizarre separation between feelings and reasoning” that has come to typify Western sexuality (precluding “the harmonization of expectations and needs, which can only be accomplished when the two partners use their brains”). Many of the conclusions will sound familiar: “If intelligence is the monopoly of men, women who dare to play clever will be stripped of their femininity” and “Western man manipulates time and light. He declares that in order to be beautiful, a woman must look fourteen years old.”

Mernissi is as bracing and intelligent as Scheherazade—and her grasp of sexual politics, both East and West, is not just piquant but spot-on.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7434-1242-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Washington Square/Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

FRONT ROW AT THE TRUMP SHOW

The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

THREE WOMEN

Based on eight years of reporting and thousands of hours of interaction, a journalist chronicles the inner worlds of three women’s erotic desires.

In her dramatic debut about “what longing in America looks like,” Taddeo, who has contributed to Esquire, Elle, and other publications, follows the sex lives of three American women. On the surface, each woman’s story could be a soap opera. There’s Maggie, a teenager engaged in a secret relationship with her high school teacher; Lina, a housewife consumed by a torrid affair with an old flame; and Sloane, a wealthy restaurateur encouraged by her husband to sleep with other people while he watches. Instead of sensationalizing, the author illuminates Maggie’s, Lina’s, and Sloane’s erotic experiences in the context of their human complexities and personal histories, revealing deeper wounds and emotional yearnings. Lina’s infidelity was driven by a decade of her husband’s romantic and sexual refusal despite marriage counseling and Lina's pleading. Sloane’s Fifty Shades of Grey–like lifestyle seems far less exotic when readers learn that she has felt pressured to perform for her husband's pleasure. Taddeo’s coverage is at its most nuanced when she chronicles Maggie’s decision to go to the authorities a few years after her traumatic tryst. Recounting the subsequent trial against Maggie’s abuser, the author honors the triumph of Maggie’s courageous vulnerability as well as the devastating ramifications of her community’s disbelief. Unfortunately, this book on “female desire” conspicuously omits any meaningful discussion of social identities beyond gender and class; only in the epilogue does Taddeo mention race and its impacts on women's experiences with sex and longing. Such oversight brings a palpable white gaze to the narrative. Compounded by the author’s occasionally lackluster prose, the book’s flaws compete with its meaningful contribution to #MeToo–era reporting.

Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4229-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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