Monday, March 5, 2012

Book Review: Infidel

I don't know why, when I decided to bring Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali along with me for my weekend excursion, that it would be one of those books that is very interesting but a little laborious to read. Regardless I was curious, I had heard a lot about her as one of the most influential atheists in modern times, and a black female one to boot, so I brought it along and began reading it Saturday morning.

By Saturday afternoon I was half way through the book and completely lost to the world. Far from being the clinical, dry theological discussion I have no idea why I thought it was going to be, it is a heart wrenching story of this brave woman's life that I had no idea had been through so much.

What struck me most about her initial account of her early life was the utterly calm tone with which she recounts her terribly abusive childhood. There is no sensationalizing what happened to her, no sense of "poor me I was so abused", no dwelling on the violence of some of the scenes that she revisits from her past, but it is exactly this lack of drama that made her story so powerful to me. The chilling stoicism with which she tells her story is in itself the dramatic climax: her story of abuse is nothing special, sensational or spectacular, what happened to her is still happening to millions of girls worldwide. What makes her story amazingly rare is not what she suffered in her youth, but the fact that she managed to escape the shackles that bound her and live a free "western" life that so many of us take for granted.

When reading this book I felt incredibly stupid that, despite the fact that I knew of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and of the film that was responsible for the murder of Theo Van Gogh, I had no idea that she was the one that actually wrote the film that he directed. Why did I not know that? Was I just coincidentally blind to this fact, or do people really not really talk about the fact that she was the one who came up with the idea and wrote the whole thing when discussing the film and Van Gogh's death?

Anyway I suppose that is not really too important. What is important is that this is one of the best autobiographical stories I have ever had the pleasure of reading, and all I could think about while reading it was how many people I would be buying it for next Christmas. I am sure that, if I were to speak to her, I would not agree with everything she believes in when it comes to politics, which she vaguely hints at towards the end of the book but never delves deeper into (for example, why on earth would she argue in favor of having the minimum wage abolished?!). Although I would have been interested to know more about how she reached some of the conclusions that she has, this book is not about her political opinions. It is about her life, about how she manages to save herself and not become a victim for life, but rather a woman who stares right in the face of the ugly oppression that tried to claim her and fearlessly takes a swing at it. It's ugly, no one wants to ackowledge the monster that lives under their bed, but there is it laides and gentlemen, it's far uglier and scarier than you imagined, but worse it is claiming far more lives and causing far more suffering than is even close to being forgivable. It's time to face it, to challenge it, because there are very few women who are going to be able to beat all the odds and save themselves. No matter what you think of her political ideas, or methods, or personal theological opinions, you just have to admire the hell out of her for that.

A little extra on the plus side, the book also has a forward written by the late great Christopher Hitchens, which I am sure many people would enjor if for no other reason than they feel he died far too soon and did not have enough time to write enough pieces for his voracious readers. Personally I don't like reading these kinds of forwards until after I have finished the book, as they are generally one big spoiler alert and I want to form my own opinion of what I am reading without holding another person's words about the story in my head. Whichever order you wish to read them is up to you, just so long as you take a few hours from your life and pick up this unbelievably inspirational story.


  1. I remember reading Khaled Housseini's "A Thousand Splendid Suns," stunned by the beatings the two women went through, and Amy Tan's "The Kithchen's God's Wife" and the deprecation she suffered. But Ayaan Hirsi Ali's "Infidel" isn't just about the suffering she went through, but the transition of thoughts that turned her into who she is now. It's about the woman she's become - an incomparable identity, a symbol of strenght and perseverance, and an infinite voice for those who can't speak. She represents a childhood - a history - inconcievable to most of us. And yet she tells it in ways we can relate to. And overcomes it with the strenght and perseverance we hope for throughout our lives.

    1. I agree 100%. I hope many more people read this book