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Dreams Of Trespass: Tales Of A Harem Girlhood Paperback – Sep 4 1995

4.2 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1st edition (Sept. 4 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201489376
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201489378
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 14.6 x 24.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 363 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #162,484 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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I read this book years ago and loved it so much I gave away my copy only to miss it recently so another purchase. Insightful about the harem life of one family, both tender and critical. One is given the contrast of the grandmother in the country whose life is free. The dynamic between the two kinds of life a woman in Morocco might lead is thought-provoking. I enjoyed the tenderness among the women in the harem. It reminded me a bit of the 18-19th century English country house novels where women spent most of their time with each other and taking care of each other. This is a far cry from the romantic notions of the Orientalist painters, just an average family in Morocco of that time.
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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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By A Customer on Oct. 29 2002
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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