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DESERT CHILDREN by Waris Dirie Kirkus Star


by Waris Dirie with Corinna Milborn & translated by Sheelagh Alabaster

Pub Date: May 15th, 2006
ISBN: 1-84408-252-0
Publisher: Virago/Trafalgar

Third volume in Revlon model Dirie’s continuing campaign to bring an end to the practice of female genital mutilation.

Desert Flower (1998, not reviewed) told of the author’s personal experience with FGM as a child in Somalia and of her escape to England; it also recounted her work combating the practice in Africa as a UN Special Ambassador. Here, she examines the extent of FGM in Europe. Dirie estimates that at least half-a-million women and girls currently living in Europe have been mutilated or are at risk. She describes her travels throughout the continent interviewing women working to eradicate the practice, health workers, women who have endured FGM and doctors who perform reconstructive surgery. She paints a vivid picture of what FGM does to a woman’s body and frequently lets the victims tell in their own words of its devastating physical and psychological effects. Her text makes it clear that many of these women, though they reside in European countries, are almost completely isolated from Western culture. They may not speak the country’s language or have any knowledge of its mores or laws; they are subject to their husbands’ dictates. As a black woman and victim of FGM, Dirie made an intimate connection with her interviewees. While acknowledging that some cultural traditions dictate FGM as a prerequisite for marriage, she adamantly rejects the assertion that Islam requires it, and she demands that imams speak out against it. She also calls for better education of the general public, women at risk, social workers and health workers; for greater recognition of the crime in European judicial systems; and for increased prosecution and punishment of offenders. Appendices summarize the known facts about FGM; outline FGM legislation in various European nations; and list sources of help.

A hard-hitting message about a brutal practice that’s clearly aimed at a European audience. American readers will wonder if the problem exists within U.S. borders.