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Dreams Of Trespass: Tales Of A Harem Girlhood [Paperback]

Fatima Mernissi
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 4 1995
"I was born in a harem in 1940 in Fez, Morocco... " So begins Fatima Mernissi in this exotic and rich narrative of a childhood behind the iron gates of a domestic harem. In Dreams of Trespass, Mernissi weaves her own memories with the dreams and memories of the women who surrounded her in the courtyard of her youth-women who, deprived of access to the world outside, recreated it from sheer imagination. Dreams of Trespass is the provocative story of a girl confronting the mysteries of time and place, gender and sex in the recent Muslim world.

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Product Description

From Amazon

In 1940, harems still abounded in Fez, Morocco. They weren't the opulent, bejeweled harems of Scherezade, but the domestic sprawl of extended families encamped around a walled courtyard that marked the edges of women's lives. Though born into this tightly sheltered world, Fatimi Mernissi is constantly urged by her rebellious mother to spring beyond it. Worried that Mernissi is too shy and quiet, her mother tells her, "You must learn to scream and protest, just the way you learned to walk and talk." In Dreams of Trespass, an enjoyable weave of memory and fantasy, it is clear that Mernissi's fertile imagination let her slip back and forth through the gates that trapped her restive mother. She spins amiable, often improbable tales of the rigidly proper city harem in Fez and the contrasting freedoms of the country harem where her grandmother Yakima lives. There, one of Yakima's cowives rides like the wind, another swims like a fish, and Yakima relishes twitting the humorless first wife by naming a fat, waddling duck after her.

From Publishers Weekly

This rich, magical and absorbing growing-up tale set in a little-known culture reflects many universals about women. The setting is a "domestic harem"in the 1940s city of Fez, where an extended family arrangement keeps the women mostly apart from society, as opposed to the more stereotypical "imperial harem," which historically provided sex for sultans and other powerful court officials. Moroccan sociologist Mernissi ( Islam and Democracy ) charts the changing social and political frontiers and limns the personalities and quirks of her world. Here she tells of a grandmother who warns that the world is unfair to women, learns of the confusing WW II via radio news in Arabic and French, watches family members debate what children should hear, wonders why American soldiers' skin doesn't reflect Moroccan-style racial mixing and decides that sensuality must be a part of women's liberation. With much folk wisdom--happiness, the author's mother told her, "was when there was a balance between what you gave and what you took"--this book not only tells a winning personal story but also helps to feminize a much-stereotyped religion. Photos. BOMC and QPB selections.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
I WAS BORN in a harem in 1940 in Fez, a ninth-century Moroccan city some five thousand kilometers west of Mecca, and one thousand kilometers south of Madrid, one dangerous capitals of the Christians. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Fantasy and the Hope June 24 2003
It is rare and hard to find a book like this. So emic, so true, so feminine. Through the simple stories of her life as a child, Mernissi shows us the falseness of Western stereotypes and the tragedy of Islamic sexism. She shows us what a true harem is- the pure companionship of women, and not the sexual lasciviousness which the Western imagination dreamed up in it's ideal of the exotic- in the process revealing far more the degradation of Western society than they anything true of Arabic culture. But she writes with great honesty about her own people as well, and the control that a woman is constantly placed under, perceived as the "devouring vagina" (as she writes in another work, Beyond the Veil), needing to be controlled and put into it's place for the protection of men. One sees here, not through telling, but through story, how Moroccan women have so little freedom to be who they desire in a world where all that is public is also male. But we also see the beauty of women together in that same society, and through that, can dream.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Very sad Oct. 29 2002
This is a great book that describes a world that is foreign both to nonMuslims and the vast majority of Muslims. The book describes a world where females are shut out from the world, locked in a house, unable to live a normal life. Many of the women are starved for affection as a result of having to share their husband with other women. The story of women deprived of the things that should be normal, everyday life (monogamous marriages, jobs, schooling, shopping, charity work, interacting with men), who retreat to fantasy worlds is truly depressing reading. One reviewer described this as "Islamic culture", which it most definitely is not. The seclusion of women is a preIslamic cultural practice that has no basis is Islamic teachings. Unfortunately Mernissi leaves the impression that this is common behavior in the Muslim world. 99% of Muslim men are monogamous and many Muslim women live lives not much different from those of western women. In the most populous Muslim nations such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, India etc. this kind of lifestyle is nonexistent. Men and women are not separated in daily life and mongamy is the norm. Men who practice polygamy for any other reason other than for the purpose of caring for orphans are violating Islamic principles, not following them. I'm also troubled to see some Muslims condemning this book. Wake up, take your heads out of the sand and realise that there are many Muslims twisting Islamic teachings to oppress women. Does it matter that Islam gave women lots of rights if some Muslim men forbid the exercising of those rights?
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Subtitled, "Tales of a Harem Girlhood," this is the story of the author, Fatima Mernissi's Moroccan childhood in the 1940s. Now a sociologist at the University Mohammed V in Rabat, Morocco, she has skillfully recreated the sense of wonder and observation of a child. Her own father had only one wife, but she lived in an extended family with an aunt, uncle, cousins, divorced female relatives, and even some women who had once been slaves and who no had nowhere else to go. The term "harem" as she uses it, means the seclusion of women. Her mother, who was illiterate, dreamed moving beyond the walls, but did not even have the privilege of simply walking down the street as western women do. Instead, she rebelled by embroidering birds of flight and encouraged her daughter to get an education. The household was lively, and I felt myself drawn right in, getting to know each person through Ms. Mernissi's eyes. I was treated to their storytelling and home theatrical productions; I observed them sneaking up to the roof to get a bit of privacy; I understood why the act of chewing gum was considered a rebellion; I left the walled compound in the city with her when she visited her maternal grandmother who lived on a farm, one of eight co-wives, who gets to "cuddle" with her husband only one out of eight days.
As I'm about the same age as the author, I couldn't help thinking about my life and how much I took for granted in my own childhood - such as the simple act of walking down the street and being exposed to the outside world through newspapers, radio and television. This book provided a magnificent glimpse into a world that seems as strange to me as mine would have seemed to her. And it certainly opened my eyes.
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Subtitled, Tales of a Harem Girlhood, this is a most fascinating tale of the realities of a Moroccan harem. Most Westerners take the word harem and think Turkish harem - hundreds of women floating around large tiled rooms waiting to serve the lord and master. Mernissi, a western schooled sociologist, feminist, and scholar, takes us into the life of a young girl born into a family in Fez (in Western Morocco) in the 1940's. Her harem is not the rooms of I-Dream-of-Jeannie look-alikes but rather the complex social structures of the Moroccan/Muslim family in the middle of this century. Her harem is the world of women, daughters, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers who live 'inside' the urban home (but interestingly, live more freely out on the country farm). We learn about the feelings she and her brother (with whom she is close) experience when they come of an age to be separated; he relegated to the world of the men, and she to the hidden world of the harem. Mostly, though, this beautiful book tells the stories of the women in Fatima's harem who have dreams and fantasies (that will never come true), including the dreams of trespass into the outside world, the world of men. After having worked in Morocco in the early 1990s, I could see that much has changed for Moroccan women, but thoughout the Arab world there still exist plenty who still have those dreams of trespass.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Story of Family, Love, and Strength
I began this book with many typical Western preconceived notions. I expected the exoticized harem of one sheik with many wives that we hear about in the movies and in literature. Read more
Published on June 17 2002 by Kelly McGee
3.0 out of 5 stars Dreams of Tresspass
The struggles of a girl's life in Harlem brings together the major ideas of this book together. In the book Dreams of Trespass a girl tries to understand her place in society, but... Read more
Published on Aug. 28 2001 by Lauren Lorberbaum
1.0 out of 5 stars mernissi's book
i was surprised to find only one unfavorable view on this book.. i found it's ornate diction along with its detailed descriptions and banal subjects most suffocating and tedious to... Read more
Published on March 28 2001 by kathy
3.0 out of 5 stars book
Mernissi's book is a refreshing departure from the usual stories out of the Muslim world. Mernissi does not focus on the sterotypes of Muslim women present in the Western world,... Read more
Published on Nov. 1 2000
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful read!
Dreams of Trespass is a wonderfully written novel about a young girl growing up inside a harem. Fatima did an extrodinary job describing how the women of her family managed to... Read more
Published on Sept. 18 2000 by "pandora62375"
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book
It is really difficult for Americans to comprehend a culture as different as traditional Moroccan culture. Read more
Published on June 16 2000 by "margaret1"
4.0 out of 5 stars Dreams of Trespass
The book Dreams of Trespass was easy and enjoyable book to read. It tells the story of the author as a young girl. Read more
Published on May 4 2000 by jennifer gottardo
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read and Entertaining
This book was very entertaining and informative. The author did a wonderful job of explaining what life is like in a harem for a woman in Morroco. Read more
Published on May 2 2000 by Abby
4.0 out of 5 stars Insights into the harem life
I thought Dreams of Trespass was a great autobiography that gives us a look at life within the walls of a harem. Read more
Published on May 2 2000 by RENA FOX
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