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Mayada, Daughter of Iraq: One Woman's Survival Under Saddam Hussein Paperback – September 7, 2004

4.7 out of 5 stars 119 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When author Sasson (Esther's Child; Princess Sultana's Circle; etc.) was assigned Mayada Al-Askari as a translator on a 1998 trip to Baghdad, she had no idea she would form a lasting friendship with this fluent English-speaker and member of a prominent Iraqi family. When Sasson returned to the United States, the two women wrote letters and telephoned each other weekly until, in 1999, Mayada was arrested by Saddam Hussein's secret police for allegedly printing anti-regime pamphlets in her Baghdad print shop and imprisoned for nearly a month in Iraq's brutal Baladiyat Prison. Sasson's candid, straightforward account of Mayada's time among the 17 "shadow women" crammed into Cell 52 gives readers a glimpse of the cruelty and hardship endured by generations of Iraqis. Mayada stares down this ugliness as soon as she's yanked from her meticulously run shop into the prison's interrogation room: "She saw chairs with bindings, tables stacked high with various instruments of torture.... But the most frightening pieces of... equipment were the various hooks that dangled from the ceiling. When Mayada glanced to the floor beneath those hooks, she saw splashes of fresh blood, which she supposed were left over from the torture sessions she had heard during the night." Sasson's graceful handling of such stomach-turning material, including an overview of Iraq's political and social turmoil, is a tribute to her friend, who escaped to Jordan with her children soon after her release from prison. Although Mayada's story has a happy ending, the unclear fates of her cell mates serve as a painful reminder of how many innocent lives were cut short by Hussein's regime.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Sasson, author of Princess: A True Story of Life behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia (1992), first met Mayada in 1998. A year later, Mayada, granddaughter of a revered Iraqi hero who fought with Lawrence of Arabia, a former journalist, modern businesswoman, and the mother of two children, was arrested and imprisoned on allegations that her business was printing antigovernment flyers. Sasson relates Mayada's imprisonment with 17 "shadow women," similarly falsely accused and imprisoned and subjected to torture and cruelty under the regime of Saddam Hussein. To distract themselves, the women tell each other stories of their lives, and Mayada discloses her high-born, privileged lifestyle even though her family were not members of the leading Baath Party. She recalls her mother's acquaintance with Hussein's wife and their mutual dislike. Mayada also tells of interviews with the cruel and erratic Ali Hassan al-Majid, Hussein's cousin and the man who would become known as Chemical Ali. This is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the cruelties suffered by the Iraqis under Hussein. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: NAL; Reprint edition (September 7, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451212924
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451212924
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #503,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jean grew up in a small town in Alabama. From the time she could read, she was a voracious reader. By the beginning of her teens had read every book in the school library. At fourteen she started saving her small allowance until she had enough to purchase a book. She then started her book collection when she bought her first book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer--an unusual choice for a young girl from the Deep South. She wanted a good read and she wanted value for money, so she decided that the best option for her limited budget was to purchase the book with the most pages.

At school Mrs. Sam Jackson, her beloved literature teacher, soon noticed Jean's preoccupation and took it upon herself to make weekly trips to a nearby college library to exchange a selection of books to satisfy Jean's reading needs.

And today? When not absorbed in writing or the business of being a celebrated author, she reads and reads, maybe a book a day--literary success has enabled her to buy a variety of books; no longer selected by the number of pages.

Her literary tastes are widely varied, and she has a long list of favorites. Heading that list is Sir Winston Churchill, the prolific writer and leader of Britain in the dark years of World War II. Other historic figures, like Napoleon Bonaparte and T.E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia"), satisfy her two literary loves, history and travel.

The works of Gertrude Bell, Freya Stark and Sir Richard Burton opened her mind's eye to the fascinations and mysteries of the Middle East, and those first musings led to her writing success.

No longer content to only read about the magical world of the Middle East, Jean, armed with hospital administrative skills in addition to her literary thirst, sought and found the ideal opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge--knowledge of that closed and mysterious land, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In 1978 she was selected to work at the most prestigious royal hospital in the Middle East, The King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in the Saudi capital Riyadh. There her talents blossomed. She became the Administrative Coordinator of Medical Affairs and personal assistant to the hospital medical and executive director, Dr. Nizar Feteih. Through him she was introduced to various Saudi royals, including King Khalid and his Crown Prince Fah'd, who succeeded as King on Khalid's death in 1982.

In 1983, a close friendship between Jean and another royal, Princess Sultana, was forged and years later, based on that friendship, Jean was able to write her widely acclaimed Princess Trilogy. Jean and the princess recently collaborated on a fourth book, Princess, More Tears to Cry, telling the world of the vast gender changes now occurring in the desert kingdom.

Jean worked for four years at the King Faisal Hospital and during that time met the man she was to marry, Peter Sasson, an international man who came from an unusual background. Peter Sasson was a British citizen born in Egypt to a British/Italian father and Yugoslav mother.

Jean lived in Saudi Arabia for twelve years. During those years she devoted herself to activities that would form the bedrock of her career as a writer when she returned to America. She met and made friends with Arab women from the Middle East before leaving Riyadh in April 1991. (At this time Jean and Peter divorced, although they remained close friends.)

After living and traveling in the Middle East for so many years, she felt a special affection for the people of the region. She traveled to Bahrain, The Emirates, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and other countries in the area. She visited war-torn Lebanon and Kuwait, before and after the first Gulf War. After Saddam Hussein's army invaded the country of Kuwait, Jean became concerned with the fate of the innocent Kuwaitis who were victims of the invaders. Her concern drove her to contact the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the United States, Sheik Saud Nasir Al-Sabah, requesting his advice on traveling to areas housing Kuwaiti refugees.

Armed with a letter of introduction from the Kuwaiti Ambassador, Jean flew Europe and the Middle East to conduct interviews with Kuwaitis. While in Riyadh, Kuwait's Minister of Information invited her to fly to the Saudi mountain village of Taif, Saudi Arabia, where the Kuwaiti royals had formed a government in exile. There she interviewed the Emir and the Crown Prince of Kuwait, among other high ranking Kuwaiti officials, rare interviews that were given to few other journalists or writers.

After leaving Saudi Arabia, Jean traveled to Cairo, Egypt and then to London, meeting many dozens of Kuwaiti citizens living in exile. Jean used the invaluable material she gathered about Kuwaitis on the day of the Iraqi invasion, to write her bestselling book, The Rape of Kuwait.

The book sold over a million copies in one month, proving to the world that ordinary people truly cared about the small country and its people. In fact, Jean Sasson was the first and only author to write about the innocent Kuwaitis who were caught in the cruel grip of the Iraqi invasion. Soldiers from various countries sent to the area to fight for the freedom of Kuwait, were presented with free copies of the book, a kindly gesture made by the Kuwaiti government, so that soldiers might know what they were fighting for, which was freedom.

Her devotion to the cause of Kuwait won her an invitation to return to Kuwait on the Kuwaiti government sponsored "FREEDOM FLIGHT." Staying a month in the ravaged country, she joined joyful Kuwaitis celebrating their hard-won freedom, even as she mourned with the Kuwaitis who had lost loved ones. Never forgetting what she had seen, over the years she continued her writings and concern about the missing Kuwaitis lost to the Iraqi prison system, despite the many efforts made by Kuwaiti royals as well as ordinary Kuwaiti citizens to gain their freedom.

Her care for the people of the Middle East continued, taking her to unusual stories. In 1998 she requested an invitation from Saddam Hussein to visit Iraq. Although she was the author of the book that had greatly displeased Saddam (The Rape of Kuwait) she received a personal invite from the Iraqi dictator. Traveling to Iraq alone and without protection, she saw for herself the privations being suffered by those most vulnerable: the women and children; deprivations at the hands of Saddam Hussein. While in Iraq, she was assigned a woman from one of the leading families of Iraq as her translator, Mayada Al-Askari. Her bestselling book, Mayada, Daughter of Iraq was a result of that trip.

Living in Atlanta, Georgia, Jean wrote book after book, until today she is the author of 12 published books. One of the most successful was the Princess Trilogy, a series of books about her friend, Princess Sultana al-Sa'ud, which was named as one of the most important books written in the past eight-hundred years by a woman. The books have sold millions of copies worldwide.

Jean's books have won a number of awards. The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, an organization in Dubai which promotes and recognizes cross-cultural understanding, chose Jean's critically acclaimed book Ester's Child as a book that best promotes world peace.

Jean is the author of Love in a Torn Land, the true story of a Kurdish/Arab woman who joined her freedom fighting Kurdish husband in the mountains of Northern Iraq. After being gassed and temporarily blinded, the Kurdish heroine made her way out of Iraq into Iran. After Jean was contacted by Omar Bin Laden, the 4th born and well-loved son of his father, she wrote the story of Omar and his mother and their life with Osama Bin Laden, titled: Growing up Bin Laden, a critically acclaimed book. She later wrote For the Love of a Son, the true story of an Afghan woman who lost her young child to an abusive husband, and spent many long years searching for her son.

Jean returned to the topic of the Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait with Yasmeena's Choice: A True Story of war, rape, courage and survival, telling the painful story of a Lebanese visitor to Kuwait who was trapped in the country after the invasion. The woman was kidnapped and held in a special prison housing innocent women to be brutally raped.

Jean wrote and published a small tome, American Chick in Saudi Arabia, telling a few stories about her first two years in Saudi Arabia, in regard to the Saudi women she met. Jean plans on finishing this memoir for publication within the next two years.

Jean recently finished her 4th book on Princess Sultana, titled Princess: More Tears to Cry, to be published August 28, 2014.

The list of Jean's best-selling published books:

The Rape of Kuwait (1991)
Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia (1992, updated in 2013)
Princess Sultana's Daughters (This book is titled Daughters of Arabia in the UK.)
Princess Sultana's Circle (This book is titled Desert Royal in the UK.)
Ester's Child (2001) (To be released in an updated paperback copy in 2016.)
Mayada, Daughter of Iraq (2003)
Love in a Torn Land: Joanna of Kurdistan (2007)
Growing Up bin Laden: Osama's wife and son take us inside their secret world (2009)
For the Love of a Son: an Afghan woman's quest for her stolen child (2010)
American Chick in Saudi Arabia (A sample of her memoir not yet completed. MEMOIR should be completed and published in 2016/2017)
Yasmeena's Choice: A True Story of War, Rape, Courage & Survival (2013)
Princess: More Tears to Cry (2014)

TO BE RELEASED OCTOBER 2015: The fifth in the Princess Sultana Series, titled: PRINCESS, SECRETS TO SHARE.

Early publisher readers have said that this is the best in the series since PRINCESS, the original book telling the true story of Princess Sultana Al-Saud. I hope you get to read it.

With a solid background of first-hand experience and years of travel, research and writing, Jean Sasson has made many appearances on national and international television programs as well as having been featured in many international newspaper and magazine articles. She has a huge following of readers from countries all over the world, which is confirmed by the number of her readers and her enormous social media internet following.

Jean is also working on two other important projects, one a secret project, and the other which will be the completion of her memoir of spending so many years living and visiting in the Middle East. Her long-awaited memoir will reveal her many personal and compelling adventures in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait and Iraq.

website: www.jeansasson.com
Blog: http://jeansasson.wordpress.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorJeanSasson
Twitter: http://twitter.com/jeansasson
ask/fm: http://ask.fm/jeansasson

Jean's work has been featured in People, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New York Post, The Sunday London Times, The Guardian, CNN, FOX, NBC, and many other news organizations.

Here's a note from Author Jean Sasson:

First of all I would like to thank all of you who care about the books I write. So many of you take the time to write me a note and for that I am forever grateful. Your care about the women (and men) I write about means more to me than you will ever know.

So many people ask me: why do you care so much about the plight of women of the world? The answer is simple: because I can't help it.

I grew up in the United States, in a tiny town down South. In my daily experience, women enjoyed full freedom to do as they pleased. During those early years, it was beyond my imagining that women might be discriminated against.

But from a young age, I noticed mankind's too often unthinking mistreatment of other animals. Such cruelty broke my heart, and I took aggressive action to aid animals in need. Mischievous boys who thought it amusing to tie a bag of rocks to a cat's tail soon learned to avoid me. I cared for a number of animals of my own, including some rather eccentric ones, such as a pet chicken named Prissy that I taught to walk on a lead. Another pet chicken, named Ducky, accompanied me like my little shadow and brought me endless joy. I had a number of cats and, when I grew older, I got my first doggie, a black cocker spaniel named, yes, Blackie! Others - Frisky, Doby, and a Peke named Goo Boo - soon followed.

As I grew older, it seemed that all the homeless dogs and cats in my little town "knew" to gather in our yard, sensing that I could not turn a single one away.

An impulse to save needy animals carried on throughout my entire life, and I was willing to pursue eccentric efforts to save a chained or otherwise mistreated animal. After I moved to Saudi Arabia, our villa in a Saudi neighborhood quickly filled with abandoned dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, and even ducks!

Friends who stayed overnight in our home were often confronted with the challenge of sharing their bed with a couple of affectionate cats, of being roused in the morning by songs from caged birds, or of arranging their evening ablutions alongside a surprise in the guest bathroom: a bathtub filled with ducks!

Some people say that my heightened sensitivity is a blessing, while others stamp it a curse. I endorse the "blessing" tag and exult that I've been the joyful "mother" of 31 cats and dogs, the "foster mom" of many others until I could find an appropriate home, as well as the caretaker of too many birds to count. A few years ago a friend from the days of Saudi laughingly confided that my nickname was "The Bird Woman of Riyadh," a title unknown to me during my 12 years of living in the desert kingdom.

In Saudi Arabia, I worked as the Administrative Coordinator of Medical Affairs at The King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre. Most hospital reports crossed my desk prior to being presented to my boss who was the head of the hospital. Therefore, I was privy to the details of many human tragedies. But the reports that haunted me most were the stories of women who had been brutally mistreated. And, more often than not, it seems, their injuries had been inflicted by the very men who were supposed to protect them. Many Saudi men, of course, were wholly kind to the females in their family. But there were large numbers of men who felt it their right to lash out at a wife or daughter with cruelty or brutality, the women of the family had nowhere to turn for help. The man's word was absolute law and no outside organization would dare interfere. A woman's helplessness in such a situation is heartrending and nearly unsolvable.

I saw sadness almost every day that I worked at the hospital, most of it associated with women's issues. Unfortunately, there was little I could do - for I, too, was a disenfranchised woman, in a country not my own.

But I met several Saudi women who desperately plotted for change. One was a Saudi princess, a woman the world now knows as Princess Sultana Al-Saud. Understanding her culture well, she described that nothing would crack Saudi men's determination to maintain the status quo...nothing, that is, short of worldwide indignation. For this reason, the princess was fierce in her belief that the story of Saudi women must be told. Most importantly, she wanted her own life experiences to be the story that inflamed the world.

For years we discussed this possibility, but after my book The Rape of Kuwait lent me the clout of a bestseller, we knew the time was right to expose the tragedies that afflict so many women on this earth. By then, we were both mature women who understood that discrimination against women is not limited to Saudi Arabia or to the Middle East, but is a worldwide problem, aggrieving women in Western nations, too. But first we would tell HER story.

Storytelling is powerful. A powerful book or movie can inform and inflame. That is why I think it is wonderful that so many books are now being written about the plight of women worldwide. I support all authors who make this important subject their life's work.

I am proud that PRINCESS was the first book to be written about the life of a Saudi Arabian woman, because Saudi life for females is completely unique and cannot compare with any other Middle Eastern country, or for that matter, any country in the world.

After PRINCESS, I shared other, very powerful stories. After traveling to Iraq in July 1998, I wrote about Mayada Al-Askari in MAYADA, DAUGHTER OF IRAQ. Later I shared the story of Joanna's great adventure, the story of a Kurdish woman's escape from Northern Iraq in the book LOVE IN A TORN LAND. Soon came the compelling story of Osama's wife and son, called: GROWING UP BIN LADEN. My latest account is FOR THE LOVE OF A SON: ONE AFGHAN WOMAN'S QUEST FOR HER STOLEN CHILD, a story that will make you weep and make you laugh. I told a few of my own stories in AMERICAN CHICK IN SAUDI ARABIA. In YASMEENA'S CHOICE, I write about one of the bravest women I've ever met, a Lebanese woman caught up in Gulf War I.

I hope that my books contribute to your learning and understanding about women of the world, and that you, too, work to ensure that every human being - male or female - has the right to lead a life of dignity.

Jean Sasson

For additional information about Jean Sasson and her books, please visit, and on many of these sites, you can write to the author as she enjoys hearing from readers.

http://www.JeanSasson.com

http://jeansasson.wordpress.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorJeanSasson

Twitter: http://twitter.com/jeansasson

ASK: http://ask.fm/jeansasson

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I felt the need to respond to Alicia for her September 15th review of my book, MAYADA, DAUGHTER OF IRAQ. This book is not anti-Arab, in fact, it is the exact opposite, simply telling the story of female prisoners, and their consequent friendships, who endure a hell in Saddam's prisons. This story makes readers admire and respect Arab women, as they should.

I'll respond to the questions raised by Alicia although I will make this brief.

1) About the cover: Once the author sells the rights to a book, he/she has little input about the covers or about anything much to do with the book, including publicity. Publishing is a business and publishing houses have large staffs to decide the best way to make their money back on a book. Dutton first had a cover with Mayada on it but when they took the book to market, the big booksellers protested the cover and said they wanted a veiled woman on it. At that time, the cover was changed. This was not the author's decision.

2) ANYONE WHO WRITES A REVIEW SHOULD HAVE READ THE BOOK THEY DISCUSS: Reviewer Alicia could not have even looked through this book, forget reading it. If she had only thumbed through the book, she would have seen the photographs of Mayada and of her family inside the book. Since Mayada came to the United States and toured with me on the book, and appeared on a number of national television and radio shows, there's no doubt in anyone's mind that Mayada exists. Add to that, Mayada's family is well known and highly respected throughout the entire world. Winston Churchill even wrote the obit for Mayada's grandfather, Jafar Al-Askari. Where on earth does the reviewer get the idea that Mayada Al-Askari does not exist? Such a statement should not be made by anyone.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I purchased this book as soon as it was published because I have read the Princess books by Jean Sasson and already knew that she was an editorial genius. This book is about the title-character, Mayada. Mayada came from a prominent Iraqi family and she owned and managed a printing shop. Tragically under the harsh rule of Saddam Hussein she was accused of breaking the law and thrown in jail. Mayada's basic human rights were violated while she was in jail. She met several women in her jail cell, the "shadow women" as they are called. The shadow women are all so brave and harrowing. Each shadow woman has her own story of despair; one worse than the next. The fate of the shadow women is unknown, but if you read this book you will find out what happens to Mayada. "Mayada" is among Ms. Sasson's best work. It is thought-provoking, intense and written in great detail. It is my sincere hope that Ms. Sasson will write a follow-up story this.
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Format: Hardcover
My name is Mayada Al-Askari , and I am the subject of the book Ms. Jean Sasson wrote : (Mayada Daughter of Iraq) . I read Ms . Noor Al-Timimi's review of the book , and was surprised about two points in her reasons for not giving the book 5 stars , where she assumes that :

1- The existence of : "Conflict in some details like it was mentioned at the beginning of the story that she was caught before her daughter's birthday, then at the end of the book she repeated that she got caught right after her daughter's birthday."

There is no conflict about the dates of my daughter Fay's birthday , or the date of my arrest, Fay was born on the 17th of July 1983 , we celebrated her birthday on the 17th of July 1999 in the Alwiya Club , it was a Saturday , and I was arrested two days after , on the 19th of July 1999 , a date I will never forget for the rest of my life , then , in the letter to ( Samara) , there was a mention that I went to the club with both my children , Fay and Ali to use the pay phone there , and that I baked a cake to get all the personnel there to gather around Fay and Ali , for me to be able to make the phone calls without the switchboard person listening to my conversations , it was not Fay's birthday then , but she took the cake as a gift , as she did not offer them her cake on her birthday that she celebrated on the 17th of July in the club . I wish Ms . Noor had read that part in a more thorough manner before passing on that judgment .

2- Ms . Noor Al-Timimi says : " Despite that it is purely my assumption, but the author did not convince me that she met Mayada "by coincidence".
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Format: Hardcover
Like everyone else who keeps up with news reports on what's happening in Iraq, I was bamboozled by the search for weapons of mass destruction, disappointed by the lack of results and second-guessing the choice we Americans made to interfere in the sovereign rights of a member of the United Nations.
Then I was lucky enough as a journalist to meet Mayada...after I read Jean Sasson's book about her life.
Sasson depicts Mayada in the book as a true gentlewoman who traces her lineage back to remarkable gentlemen and women of the educated elite in the part of the world where civilization first emerged. In person, she proved to be that bright and gentle woman.
Mayada, through the book and in person, is an excellent spokesman for the injustices of the just-ousted regime in Iraq, for the justice represented by our unilateral action in Iraq and for the promise of a democratic stronghold in the Middle East.
After reading the book, even as a seasoned journalist, I have a different frame of reference when I hear, see or read the sensational reports intimating that our U.S. actions were or are based on eroneous grounds.
Mayada - a jounalist herself - calls it "a good thing." Knowing her story now, I agree. Read the book and you'll watch history unfold from the viewpoint of someone who has been there.
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