Debut memoir chronicles Wilson’s conversion to Islam and negotiation of Egyptian society.
The author, who has published essays on religion and the Middle East in the New York Times Magazine and the Atlantic Monthly, begins with a trip to Iran in 2004, noting that she was a Sunni living in Egypt. She then flashes back to her sophomore year at Boston University, where she suffered from kidney troubles and was hospitalized. Her medical trauma caused her to reconsider her religious views. “As a child,” she writes, “I had precognitive dreams about mundane events like the deaths of pets, and I could not remember a time when I was not in love with whatever sat behind this world.” Feeling unfulfilled by atheism, she began to study Arabic and Islam around the time of 9/11. She tried to read The Satanic Verses but found it “dense and unpalatable.” Urged by dreams of a white horse and some Tarot cards, she headed to Cairo in 2003 with a friend, met dreamy Omar at a language school, fell in love, “came out” as a Muslim, met his family, married him, began functioning as an Egyptian woman and discovered that she loved the balance in her life between her myriad uxorial duties and her journalism. She defends some aspects of the paternalism of the culture and records how she struggled to learn the complex cultural choreography her new life demanded, and how ugly Americans in Cairo’s markets horrified her. Her parents and American friends endeavored to understand, but as Egypt veered ever more conservative, she and Omar considered a move to the United States. Several times the author quotes others who praise her writing abilities.
Enlightening cultural description and analysis blends somewhat awkwardly with self-regard.