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Between Two Worlds: Escape From Tyranny : Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam Hardcover – October 6, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The question "why did they stay?" haunts this engrossing memoir, as Salbi shows how Saddam Hussein "managed to make decent people like [her] parents complicit in their own oppression." "Growing up in Baghdad," the author remembers, "was probably not unlike growing up in an American suburb," but then Salbi's father became Saddam's private pilot. Gradually, the man who treated her like a niece became a man she called " 'Amo' [Uncle] not out of affection, but because I was afraid to say his name—Saddam Hussein—out loud." Interspersed with Salbi's memories are her mother's recollections of imposed visits from and disquieting parties with Saddam. These riveting passages reveal a self-absorbed man who, as Salbi comes to understand, "saw no conflict between feeling fondness for people and killing them." Making a physical escape from Iraq was easy—a marriage was arranged in the U.S. to an abusive husband (from whom Salbi also had to escape)—compared with making the new life that culminated in founding Women for Women International, an organization that assists women victimized by war. Books to come will offer more historical and statistical data, but this may be the most honest account of life within Saddam's circle so far; not a rebel's account, although Salbi is certainly a dissident, rather, it's an enlightening revelation of how, by barely perceptible stages, decent people make accommodations in a horrific regime. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Salbi, president of Women for Women International, an activist group for women caught up in war, had an unusual childhood: her secular, educated parents, part of Iraq's elite society, were trapped in Saddam Hussein's extended circle, and she grew up spending weekends at a house "Amo" Hussein purchased for her family and going to extravagant parties thrown by the leader and attended by his sons. Naively enjoying the perks at first, she grew up to realize that the socioeconomic privilege came at extraordinary personal cost. Salbi calmly but frankly looks back on those years, some of which were marked by war between Iraq and Iran, cataloging her growing awareness of the terrible hold Hussein had on her family, especially on her mother, who, in an attempt to save Salbi from Hussein's grasp, married her to an Iraqi stranger in America who became abusive. Relayed without stridency or bitterness, this compelling memoir is not only a story of personal success but also a fascinating glimpse at a fanatical leader, who, in his quest for power, sacrificed his own people. Stephanie Zvirin
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham (October 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592401562
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592401567
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.9 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #997,253 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

She is a beacon of hope!
E. Remmes
I borrowed this book and after reading it realized that I wanted to have it in my own library and to loan to friends to read.
W. Colleran
Told in an honest, beautiful voice, this is one of the best books I have read in a very long time.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Amy Tiemann VINE VOICE on October 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
After founding Women for Women International, an organziation that empowers women survivors of war to rebuild their lives after conflict, Zainab Salbi found the courage and voice to tell her own story of growing up in Iraq under Saddam Hussein's control. Salbi's family was trapped in Hussein's inner circle through her father's role as Saddam's airplane pilot. Through her riveting narrative the reader comes to understand that no one in Iraq was safe from Saddam's wrath and destructive appetites. Salbi's searingly honest writing has helped her conquer a lifelong struggle to claim her own identity. Even years after founding WFWI, on a return trip to Iraq she could feel the old, despised label of being known as the "pilot's daughter" clinging to her. With her work and now her writing, Zainab Salbi has shown the transformative power of shining an illuminating light of truth-telling into the dark corners of secrecy and fear. Weaving her family's story with women's history and Iraq's political history, Salbi has created an emotional, beautifully-written, timely and relevant memoir.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on November 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Zainab Salbi --- founder and president of Women for Women International, a non-profit organization created in 1993 to provide female survivors of war and genocide with the tools and resources necessary to move forward with their lives --- has written an engrossing memoir about growing up in Baghdad beneath Saddam Hussein's watchful eye. With her mother's journals as her guide and the help of Los Angeles Times reporter Laurie Becklund, Salbi painstakingly chronicles the humiliating subjugation that she and her family endured (both in Iraq and later in America) and provides a unique inside perspective into a conflict that is sadly still going on to this day.

From the time she was a child, Salbi and her family lived in constant fear of Saddam Hussein. In 1969, when she was 11 years old, her father was appointed to be his personal pilot. Because of this prestigious promotion, Saddam's presence in their home became increasingly commonplace, so much so that she and her family were instructed to call him "Amo," the Iraqi word for "Uncle." They were invited to parties at Saddam's palace and, in some of his more "merciful moments," were given lavish gifts, including a house on the palace grounds where they could spend their weekends. "But [Salbi] came to understand that these moments would be followed by months of excruciating, often mystifying punishment." Their movements were monitored. Their freedom to travel and pray was severely limited. Any difference in opinion from what Saddam believed was strictly forbidden. Although they looked to outsiders as though they were living in the lap of luxury, she and her family were trapped in an oppressive, highly controlled lifestyle with no likely means of escape.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Alison Burke on October 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I volunteered for Zainab Salbi's organization back in 1997 and interviewed her for a Washington Times article in 2003. Not knowing these details of her personal story, I was inspired by her strong spirit and work on behalf of oppressed women around the world and found her extraordinary. I had no idea, sitting across from this accomplished, engaging woman, that her life also held such painful secrets. Her book is a gift to its readers and a much-needed voice for Iraqi women.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Sarah R on October 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I picked this book up after reading about it in People magazine. I was enthralled by it. It sneaks up on you, like a psychological novel, especially once you get through the introduction. There are some beautiful lines and scenes i don't think i'll ever forget.

The reason i decided to write this review is that the published reviews here suggest this is mostly about Saddam Hussein. It's far more multilayered than that. There's a whole separate story line of journal entries Salbi's mother writes to her as she is dying (and can't talk) that finally reveal secrets she kept from her daughter when she was small because Saddam "could read eyes." It's a story about how people adapt to -- and become responsible for -- their own imprisonment.

I also learned about something you never read about -- real Iraqi people, secular Shiites, educated women most American women could easily identify with. I would recommend this to book groups and fiction-readers who loved the Kiterunner or, for different reasons, Secret Life of Bees or Alice Seybold. It raises so many universal questions about facing not only one's tormentor, but oneself, and finding the courage to start over.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Kornbluth TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 28, 2006
Format: Paperback
Zainab Salbi is the founder and CEO of Women for Women International, a Washington-based organization that has, since 1993, helped more than 22,000 women in war-ravaged countries start their own businesses and jumpstart their lives.

Zainab Salbi is also the daughter of a 747 captain who was, in the early 1980s, Saddam Hussein's personal pilot.

The connection between these identities --- fearless champion of oppressed women, terrified child in an oppressed nation --- is the story of "Between Two Worlds." It isn't the easiest book to read; "searing" is not too strong to describe the experience. What keeps you going --- indeed, what keeps you reading as fast as you can --- is how brilliantly Salbi and her collaborator, Laurie Berklund, show you what it was like to grow up "privileged" in Iraq: 24/7 scared, silenced, and, inevitably, victimized. And you stay through the horror because you know how it ends: a young woman in her 20s, with her back against the wall, will face down every demon, and, through her tears, come out slugging.

The first thing to understand about Salbi's connection to Saddam is that it was a curse. As a child, she never used Saddam's name; he was "Amo," an uncle. Why the silence? Because everyone he befriended knew Saddam was a psychopath: charming, unpredictable, deadly. He would drop by her parents' Baghdad home at all hours, usually clutching a bottle of Chivas Regal. And then he would talk about killing friends who betrayed him.

Her mother did her best to shelter her daughter: "I learned that men were born with power and women obtained it through sharpness of intellect and good acts. If you were kind, wise and did good works, you could wind up being the princess who had it all.
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