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The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman's Journey to Love and Islam Paperback – June 7, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this satisfying, lyrical memoir of a potentially disastrous clash between East and West, a Boulder native and Boston University graduate found an unlikely fit living in Cairo, Egypt, and converting to Islam. Wilson embarked on a yearlong stint working at an English-language high school in Cairo right after her college graduation in 2003. She had already decided that of the three Abrahamic religions, Islam fulfilled her need for a monotheistic truth, even though her school did not include instruction in the Qur'an because it angered students and put everybody at risk. Once in Cairo, despite being exposed to the smoldering hostility Arab men held for Americans, especially for women, she found she was moved deeply by the daily plight of the people to scratch out a living in this dusty police state tottering on the edge of moral and financial collapse; she and her roommate, barely eating because they did not know how to buy food, were saved by Omar, an educated, English-speaking physics teacher at the school. Through her deepening relationship with Omar, she also learned Arabic and embraced the ways Islam was woven into the daily fabric of existence, such as the rituals of Ramadan and Friday prayers at the mosque. Arguably, Wilson's decision to take up the headscarf and champion the segregated, protected status of Arab women can be viewed as odd; however, her work proves a tremendously heartfelt, healing cross-cultural fusion. (June)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* After an illness forces her to face her own mortality at age 18, Wilson, the child of two atheists, finds herself in search of religion. The faith that feels right for her is Islam, but in the wake of 9/11, she has difficulties embracing it fully. It isn't until she makes the decision to move to Cairo to teach at an English-language school that she is able to immerse herself in the religion she has come to love and become a Muslim. When she falls in love with Omar, an Egyptian physics teacher, Wilson becomes increasingly open about her faith, despite the reactions she fears from her friends and family. Though adjusting to life in Egypt takes some work—from learning the ins and outs of the complex marketplace to respecting societal divisions between men and women—Wilson finds herself warmly embraced and welcomed by Omar's family. Wilson's illuminating memoir offers keen insights into Islamic culture, distinguishing carefully between the radical fundamentalists who hate the West and the majority of peaceful Muslims. An eye-opening look at a misunderstood and often polarizing faith, Wilson's memoir is bound to spark discussion. --Kristine Huntley --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (June 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802145337
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802145338
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #124,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Willow is author of the New York Times bestselling comic book series MS MARVEL, winner of the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story. Her first novel, ALIF THE UNSEEN, was a New York Times Notable Book of 2012, long listed for the Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) and winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.

She enjoys British films, cooking, and Massive Multiplayer Online video games, and holds a purple belt in kajukenbo. She lives in Seattle with her husband and two children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Irving Karchmar on September 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
G. Willow Wilson is honest to the bone, and I laughed and cried by turns at the vivid and poetic account of her life's journey in The Butterfly Mosque.

From a student's philosophic interest in Islam to a religious awakening in the hospital while suffering from what she calls adrenal distress, to Egypt, where she accepted a teaching position for a year, to meeting Omar, her adored and adoring soon-to-be Sufi husband and his extended family--all against the backdrop of the Middle Eastern way of life in Cairo, that overcrowded, overhot, overdusty great city of the Nile.

Willow's descriptive and analytical powers are at once affectionate and insightful. The Middle Eastern way of life, with its emphasis on family and community interdependence instead of independence, its Islamic tradition of courtesy and hospitality, and its foundation of religion woven into every aspect of daily living, is something few in the secular West seem to appreciate.

Indeed, the Middle East division of the State Department as well as Western Think Tanks and Islamic Studies seminars would benefit greatly if The Butterfly Mosque were required reading.

Her candor is both refreshing and thoughtfully intelligent, and her bravery in forging a common ground, a space in which to live with her husband and within Islam the way her heart beckoned, is to glimpse what is left unsaid, but there between the lines--those that accept their calling and follow their heart are on the Divine path, no matter their religion.

If you have not yet read this wise and intimate memoir, buy a copy now, or order it online here, or check it out of your local library. Willow's is a life worth knowing.

Highly Recommended!
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By W. Ali on May 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Willow's honest and uplifting memoir "Butterfly Mosque" is living proof that an individual can maintain fidelity both to one's American and Muslim roots without mutual exclusivity or an "internal" clash of civilizations. Instead, Willow's "unholy" juxtaposition of both worlds, as brilliantly told in this memoir, is in fact a successful modern marriage of fluidity, cultural awareness, and open-mindedness that embraces--not demonizes--both Muslims and the West as critical foundations for her spiritual journey.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By GodivaFoldsman on June 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Willow's journey exemplifies both the complex interweaving of cultural, spiritual, and personal influences of religious faith -- a truth serum countering the mainstream media's one-dimensional portrayals -- and the sort of "Us/Them"-dissolving cultural experiences we need to read and see more of. Countless have fallen into the pit of Absolutes in their attempt to walk the tightrope of Religious and Cultural Understanding, but Willow's brave balancing act is as graceful and flowing as her writing style.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By noone on July 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The Butterfly Mosque is a lovely tale of an American woman's travel to Egypt and eventual marriage into a middle-class Egyptian family. The author is very intelligent and adept at making complex yet concise observations about life in a different culture. Much of the book is taken up by her day-to-day affairs and discovery of satisfaction in being a housewife: learning how to buy chickens in the market or becoming accustomed to differing gender relations such as not conversing with strange men and learning to accept and even welcome the protective attitude of men towards her. As such, it would probably be better classified as travel writing than memoir.

Her observations of American and Egyptian cultures are astute, however there are moments when she risks overgeneralizing, and is particularly harsh towards other Westerners. While perhaps deserved in some instances, she seems to fall into the phenomenon of those who have joined a new group and, having recently become aware of their past insensitivities and gaffs, are eager to distance themselves from others.

I agree with other reviews that note the limited information about her 'journey to Islam'. The reasons she gives for her conversion seem somewhat superficial and leave the reader wanting more. Given its classification as a memoir, one also longs for more information about her American and Egyptian family and her relationship to them. Her sketches of family members are tender yet minimal. As written everyone seems generally happy and supportive about her conversion, marriage, and decision to live in Egypt. While this may be so, one can't help but wonder about tensions behind the scenes. Of course in a memoir it's always a delicate balance between what to keep private and what to expose.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Marie E. Laconte on April 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Willow went to Egypt with nothing more than a teaching job and an urge to learn about Islam from the people who live it. Raised an atheist, she did not wrestle with the usual conundrum of whether or not Jesus was the son of God and a savior. She decided (without the help of a Muslim boyfriend) that the evidence for the existence of God not only held water, but held water within Islam.

Her story, however, does not focus upon this process, nor upon how she fell in love with an Egyptian and got married. Hers is a story that pulls the disparate elements of her life into a whole that makes sense. It's a multi-layered story that not only reveals who she is as an American, but who the Egyptians are, and how the enormous, but sometimes subtle differences between American and Egyptian culture really do clash in ways we cannot predict.

She writes authentically, honestly. I know this because I, too, married an Egyptian, and spent some time in Egypt. No American can write about living in Egypt without addressing the difficulties of daily life there, or the discomfort of trying to stay healthy in a polluted environment. At the same time, no one can deny the spirit of generosity and optimism that percolates through the national character of Egyptians. Egyptians themselves are what make Egypt livable and actually lovable.

This book is a gift to those who would venture into the waters of an intercultural life. It is especially good reading for those who have an interest in Egypt. It is not an apology, nor is it a explanation of, or justification for, the more controversial aspects of Islam. It is a memoir, not a textbook.
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