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My Accidental Jihad Hardcover – April 22, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

After quitting her So-Cal beach-bum lifestyle to attend graduate school, Bremer found herself pregnant and impulsively married Ismail, an older Libyan man. Basing this book on her Pushcart Prize–winning essay, “My Accidental Jihad,” Bremer details her youthful Barbie-doll dreams of marriage and wealth and the sweetness of their newborn daughter and then bolts to the comparative ickiness of Ramadan. Ismail’s breath smells bad, for one thing, and his fasting makes him too tired to help around the house. Further, he doesn’t quite comprehend American celebrations, such as Easter and Christmas. “It was difficult for him to understand holidays untethered from meaning and drifting in an ocean of desire and delight.” A trip to Libya to meet Ismail’s family is nearly all dismal, with Bremer grousing about how uncomfortable she is. There’s no coffee, nowhere to go running, and so on. The book’s title refers not to her falling in love with a Muslim but her “own accidental jihad, forcing me to wrestle with my intolerance and self-absorption.” Readers with similar mind-sets will want to follow Bremer’s “love story.” --Eloise Kinney

From Kirkus Reviews

A moving, lyrical memoir about how an American essayist fell in love with a Libyan-born Muslim man and learned to embrace the life she made with him. Sun associate publisher Bremer was a wayward former California surfer girl just starting to build her life in North Carolina when she met Ismail. He was 15 years older than she and different from her in almost every possible way. Yet his gentle simplicity made her feel as though she could “finally exhale…and [open] up to [herself]” in ways she had not been able to with anyone else. When she unexpectedly became pregnant not long after they met, she faced a difficult choice: terminate the pregnancy and continue her pursuit of a promising career in journalism or keep the baby and accept Ismail’s heartfelt offer of marriage. Unable to resist the mysterious allure of the future she “never intended—or even knew how much [she] wanted,” Bremer chose to “stitch [their] mismatched lives together to make a family.” Among the many challenges she encountered was coming to terms with Ismail’s loving but traditionalist family in Tripoli. To them, she was a woman “weighed down by so much individualism, impatience, and desire.” Yet through her visits with them, she also learned to temper the Western individualism she came to realize had been the source of the “creeping despair that comes from doggedly chasing the elusive dream that women can be everything at once.” As she gradually came to accept a different way of living—and eventually, worshipping—in middle-class America, Bremer grew to appreciate Ismail, her extended family and the struggle they brought into her life more than she even imagined possible. A sweet and rewarding journey of a book.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books (April 22, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616200685
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616200688
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #273,482 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Mary Reinert on June 2, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Near the end of this book the author tells of an instance being with a friend who makes what she considers a snide remark about Islam and reminds herself that she too once had a "soothing homogeneity, its bright illusions of superiority.." From my perspective, she still has an illusion of superiority; now however, it's her feeling of heterogeneousness. Although I definitely feel the author loved the man she married, I can't help but sense that it was that "difference" was a lot of the appeal. Even before meeting Ismail, the author relished a non-traditional path: "unshaved legs" and discussions about wearing a tampon on a nude beach. In short, being different from the pack was important and somehow more exhilarating, more interesting, more worthy.

The book is definitely well-written and I appreciated the author's clarity, style of writing and wit throughout the book. However, I was disappointed in the subject matter. The daily challenges of marrying someone of a different faith were interesting. The trip to Libya and the meeting of Ismail's family was fascinating. Nevertheless, at times, the book had the tone of a tempest in a teapot; to her credit, she does reflect on her own self-absorption.

Finally, I'm not sure I completely understand the title. As a westerner (she never calls herself Christian so not sure) living with a Muslim, she was forced to come to grips with her own intolerance and self-absorption calling that her "accidental jihad". However, the issues seem to be cultural rather than faith driven. She tells of attending church but nothing is said about her own personal faith and how that conflicts or reinforces her marriage or experiences with Islam.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Laurie Zolas on May 1, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read the entire book in a day. It was warm, amusing, and I learned something about about Libya and about a kind, gentle Muslim man. Bremer's reflections on American culture are thought provoking and often humorous.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Tara on July 17, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Very well-written memoir. I have to admire the writer for her candor and honesty even though I found her to be judgmental, many times lacking in empathy, and very opinionated wanting things her way much of the time. I appreciated her struggle to find herself, find where she and her husband are in their marriage and acceptance of each other,of her daughter's choices and her inner reflection and admission many times that she felt her ideas were not right. With as many issues as this mixed couple has from such wildly diverse cultures as they come from, it is a wonder their marriage is enduring but I guess with the help of couples therapy it is. Having heard for years of Gaddafi, I really knew nothing of Libya and her people, so found her chapters on their trip to that country to be very enlightening and interesting. I had the impression that the writer,even though she witnessed the oppression of the Libyan people, especially her husband's relatives and himself, she seemed to lack understanding of what they went through under the dictator, and why he still has residual affects from what he and his beloved family lived. under.

All that said, I still found it to be a very good read especially for someone who likes memoirs and I highly recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sam Sattler on September 22, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
My Accidental Jihad is the story of a young woman who, because she fell in love with an older Moslem man from Libya, found herself undertaking a very personal jihad of her own.

No, no, no... not that kind of jihad. As Krista Bremer puts it in her book," the prophet Muhammad taught that the greatest jihad, or struggle, of our lives is not the one that takes place on a battlefield but the one that takes place within our hearts...the struggle to manifest humility, wisdom, and compassion." Bremer, in order to make her new romance work long term, was forced to "wrestle with my intolerance and self-absorption." Despite the odds against her, she won her personal jihad and, with the man who would forever change her life, she created a beautiful new family of her own.

The author's choice of partners was both wise and lucky in the sense that she met a Moslem man who did not insist that she live under the strict religious restraints that Moslem women around the world contend with every day. The open-mindedness that each brought to the relationship allowed them to grow both spiritually and socially. Over the years, they have shared their respective cultures with their children, and have managed to meld themselves into a family that recognizes the best - and the worst- of both worlds.

There is a lot to like here, but I finished the book with the feeling that Bremer was going out of her way to soften some of the quirks of modern Islam, especially those pertaining to the treatment of women and a worldview that makes so many members of the faith ready to accept "battlefield jihad" as inevitable.
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I purchased this book because I was inspired to read her heartfelt story about falling in love, building a life, sharing dreams, and raising children with a man from a North African country. I'm married to a Moroccan man who came to America for school and ended up falling in love with me who happens to be southern and very American. There aren't many tales written of how multi-cultural couples end up exploring not only the other culture they married into, but also themselves and ultimately how their children are being raised. This is a coming-into-one's-skin kind of story. Krista Bremer is wonderfully open and honest with herself and how she deals with her frustrations, her challenges, and how she comes full circle to a place of peace and mutual respect. I adored her tales of her visit to Libya with her in-laws and their extended community. Her colorful way of writing puts the reader firmly there, experiencing all of the sights, smells, tastes and bewilderment of finding oneself in a family that you don't share the language of nor the traditions. Krista also paints a peaceful and loving picture of a Muslim family and community. Those glimpses into a world that very few Americans experience are sorely needed today. This is a must-read for all multi-cultural families and those who are connected to them. It's also an enlightening book club read. Lots of topics for passionate discussions!
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