48 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2000
A Border Passage is not a typical autobiography. It has many elements of an autobiography, but it is also a book of well reasoned essays on some of the most difficult aspects of the history of Egypt and its culture. Essays on Islam, imperialism and on the identity and language of Egypt
Leila Ahmed recount of her childhood and upbringing in Cairo and Alexandria is beautifully written. Her complex relationship with and her views of her mother are an important theme in the first half of the book. Her analysis of the social impact of the colonial and post colonial on her own family and the events that surrounded her is particularly insightful.
In writing this book Leila Ahmed clearly has done a considerable amount of sole searching with objective detachment. She describes that process and articulates clearly her reasoning. You can actually sense the struggle and pain she went through to reach a particular conclusion. This is the work of a sensitive person with a superb analytical mind and an ability to reflect. I particularly enjoyed her pointing out of what was a recollection and knowledge in retrospect, in her process of understanding an issue or an emotion.
The book contains a very well researched and argued section on the "Arabization" of Egypt. Here, she presents why she is not an Arab, but rather an Egyptian, from a historical, cultural, linguistic and social viewpoint. She illustrates with significant historical substantiation Arabism in Egypt as a colonial invention. Yet, she appears to be willing to accept an Arab identity as well as an Egyptian one in the west, because of what she shares with Arabs in the west. She talks of two "Arabnesses", I think I understood her correctly, but I am not sure. If you are interested in the subject you will find this part very rewarding, and if you couldn't care less, it will still be fascinating. It is her search for an identity, and her willingness to accept an additional identity in the west so as not to see herself escaping, in vain, the negative connotations that she has dedicated her life to fight.
A Border Passage is remarkable in its political correctness. This, largely, comes across as natural political correctness, not forced or contrived. It comes across from Leila Ahmed's own suffering from racial, religious and gender discrimination. She tells of stories of a teacher giving her no grades, because he couldn't believe an Egyptian could do in English what she did. She tells of man a spitting in her face in England once he found out she is Egyptian not an Israeli. She also tells of American feminists not taking her seriously because she is a Moslem. As a result of her own experiences, she was very careful not to offend sensibilities particularly in the West.
This is a truly wonderful, sensitive, insightful, lyrical and brave book.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 1999
A very intimate autobiography because it's not an autobiography at all, it's about 'border passages' -- from child to adulthood, women's communities to patriarchal ones, citizenship to immigrant, and has stirred in me a strong desire to learn more about Islam. It blew a lot of my misconceptions out of the water, but in an incidental fashion: not, "You all think Muslim women are like this, you're wrong, here's the truth", but "when I was a child, I grew up this way, in a woman's community filled with the oral teachings of Islam, oral culture, oral tradition..." lots of wonderful and instructive reminisences about her family and culture and growing up in Egypt during the time that Nassar came to power, the era when the word "Arab" was redefined, and the impact of her parents, her immediate family, and their beliefs on the sum and substance of her own life. In the course of this discussion is embedded a course on Egyptian history from the eyes of both a child, and the adult scholar who turned her attention to her own home and history.
Ahmed's comments on coming to America at the height of '60s feminism', when white middle-class women where questioning fundamental tenets of their society, yet being discouraged from asking similar questions of her own society's tenets, a pressure many 'feminists of color' experienced, was of particular interest to me. I think there may be an interesting parallel between that experience and the pressure on Third Wave feminists by some older feminists to not stray from the path established by them in the 60s, to not ask our own questions.
Ahmed's discussion of the impact of a literary emphasis on education in a culture that is predominately oral has caused me to question my own rigid assumption that if "it isn't written down, it didn't happen". She makes a fascinating point about patriarchal ideas of Islam being proliferated by 'Western' educational systems that assign more credence to the written word than the oral tradition. The story of Islam that is distributed to the world, is that of a bunch of dead misogynists, not the living religion. I find this fascinating, having had more exposure to Christianity than any other religion, which is a faith that is based on its literature -- though the faith is studied and transmitted orally by a minister to a flock, it is still based on the written word, and the faithful are expected to read that word.
An oral Islam, a women's Islam, contemplated, discussed, refined, educated in women's communities, very seperate from the written Islam, the men's Islam, is a religious division I had never considered. It's excited me to learn more about this Islam.
In sum, A Border Passage covers a great deal of ground, in an intimate, contemplative fashion: social (life in Egypt, England, the United Arab Emirates, and the USA), psychological (her parents, her moral and religious education, and passage into adulthood), and political (Arab nationalism, colonialism, post-colonialism, race in England, race and feminism in America ), all wrapped up in fundamental discussions of self-identity. Worth every moment spent reading it.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 1999
In this book Dr. Leila Ahmed present an intriguing account of various phases of her life beginning with her childhood in Cairo to her journey to the United States. As an immigrant faculty myself, I can sense her story sincerely. The story which comes from her heart and, will certainly, resides in the hearts of the readers.
Although the book is designed as an autobiography, she masterfully analyses the critical social and religious issues and incorporates them immaculately into the main story. Especially, her outright distinction between the "oral" Islam, practiced and passed on to her by the women around her, and the "official", textual, man-made, Islam is indeed creative. I believe Dr. Ahmed has earmarked on an important mission of repairing the prevailing militant view of Islam in the west by unveiling the face of a true, pacifist, Islam.
I love this book. It tells a story of a woman withstanding constant challenges in her life, her journey across different cultures in search of indentiy and a place in this world, the story of simplicity and real values, and the story of honesty and integrity. The breadth of knowledge demonstrated by the author and her command of the English language, as a non-native speaker, are quite extraordinary.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 1999
Reading this book was such an exciting and exuberant experience. As I was going through the book, I had this inexplicable feeling that Ahmed was talking about myself, my childhood, my Turkish descent, my life in Cairo before moving into the States three years ago, and my summer vacations in Alexandria. Ahmed elucidated her ethos and beliefs ardently and unfeignedly that every reader will be able to feel her sincerity and genuineness. In doing that, Ahmed presented a neat and precise summary of the Egyptian modern history. which to me, an Egyptian by birth, born after Nasser's era, was an undiscovered treasure.
To me, Egypt after Independence was a puzzle, and Ahmed's book helped me to put the bits and pieces together. Eventually, I was able to understand why the Egyptian people have different positions toward Socialism brought about by Nasser and his faction and why my father, a lawyer by profession and a capitalist by birth always hated Nasser and disrespected his party.
Albeit English is her second language, Ahmed's command of the lanaguage is prodigious. For non-Egyptians, I expect the book to be as interesting as it is for the natives. This book represents an intricately structured state-of-the-art mini-encyclopedia of Sociology, Psychology and History flowing naturally and smoothly. This is the kind of book, I, first generation Egyptian immigrant, would keep for my children and grand children as a reference they could get back to during their life journey.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2003
I thought that this book was amazing. I've read many books about Islam but I think that this book actually gave me a sense of what it means to be a Muslim. Sometimes when reading about religions we often only get an overview of the practices and beliefs of a religion but we rarely hear from believers of a particular religion and how they incorporate the beliefs of their religion into their everyday lives. For me, it was also interesting to read about Egypt during the 40's and 50's because it was something I have never studied before. It was interesting to see the religious diversity in Eygpt and how quickly that all changed with the rise of Nasser. Another thing I had never realized that Egyptians practically had the title Arab forced upon them, but most would never otherwise identify themselves as Arab. I think this book really exposed me to a world and a lifestyle that I had never known existed, and I think this is a must read for anyone who is open to seeing a new perspective on their world.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 26, 2002
Leila Ahmed's account gives a sensitive, intelligent and insightful point of view about a region that continues to dominate our attention. There is great charm to her account, but also sadness over a world that is no longer and over historical developments that went awry. At times one would wish her to be more forceful -she does not confront Edward Said, for instance, for his failure to criticize Nasser's dictatorship and personal ambition- but, then, it is evident that she comes from a world that she has not been able entirely to leave behind. For those who these days hold opinions that are anti-Arab or anti-Muslim, Ahmed's is a voice of reason and compassion, one that makes us realize that the picture is infinitely more complex than we had supposed it to be.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2002
A courageous trip in search of identity of a woman's inter and intracultural challenges. Growing up in an affluent Egyptian family where the British and European culture was "fashionable", she was confronted by the changes of the revolution, political turmoil and nationalism and its confrontation to the European imperialism. Leila Ahmed is courageously and insightfully analysing changes that influenced a whole generation and challenged her to search for answers. She travels in time from Egypt to England and finally as an immigrant in the US. She objectively and sensitively tries to unwind the entangled conflicts of politics, religion, and culture, through her personal experiences. As an Egyptian immigrant woman, although from a different generation, I have learned from this book about the modern history of Egypt and identified with some of her experiences as well. This is an eloquently written book and a fascinating journey!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2005
I wasn't sure what I would find when I chose this book. But Dr. Ahmed's thoughts on creating her identity and the societal forces that crafted her upbringing are astounding. Her tale of defining herself as a woman, an Egyptian, an Arab, a Muslim, and an American resonated very deeply with me.....
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2010
I really appreciated Leila Ahmed's thoughtful and informative book, "A Border Passage: From Cairo to America--A Woman's Journey". She grew up a Muslim, in Cairo. Her maternal grandparents were quite wealthy, but when Nasser came to power, most of their wealth was snatched away. Leila tells of her idyllic childhood in Cairo, then her schooling in England. She eventually went on to teach in the UAE and the US. Towards the end of her book, she addressed what it was to be both a Muslim and a feminist. Here is where I could only read a few paragraphs at a time, as I would have to put the book down so I could ruminate over what she had written. It wasn't that it was hard to comprehend, it's just that I wanted to savor the ideas. This is what a good book does. I was enchanted by this book because the first 4/5 were memoirs, and the last 1/5 was a philosophical dissection. Very sweet book. I have recommended it in a chat room as a "must read" book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2012
I thought reading this book fits the times, particularly with all the uprisings in Egypt and the Middle-East. Leila tackles a very difficult topic - the Egyptian identity, which is more complex than usually thought, with the commonly assigned "Arab" identity. She expresses her views on feminism and Islam very clearly.
There are a lot of awkwardly-worded long sentences in the book, but I was more moved by how she so clearly recounted her life, through Egypt, Europe, the Gulf, then to America. It's impressive (and very difficult) to revisit events in one's past life, evaluate and write about them honestly, and still be cognizant of the follies of mind and memory.