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A Border Passage: From Cairo to America-A Woman's Journey 1st Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0374115180
ISBN-10: 0374115184
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As in her widely admired scholarly book Women and Gender in Islam, Ahmed addresses how historical and political forces shape personal identities, particularly those of Arab Muslim women. Here, however, the subject is Ahmed's own identity as a scholar, a woman, a Muslim and an upper-class Egyptian at home in both East and West. In elegant prose, she tells of her childhood in Cairo, her college years at Cambridge and of teaching in Abu Dhabi and America. In Ahmed's nuanced rendering, politics are not the backdrop to people's lives but their fabric. The internalization of colonial attitudes, the 1952 revolution and Arab nationalism, class issues, the effects of Zionism and the politics of gender roles are woven into her life and the lives of those around her. Most poignant is the transformation of Ahmed's disdain for her "traditional" Arabic-speaking mother, who spent her days with female relatives, into an understanding of how these women made sense of their lives. Indeed, throughout this fluid memoir, she provocatively reformulates the terms by which menAWestern and ArabAhave defined women through her own cross-cultural comparisons of women's communities, as when she describes the all-female Girton College (at Cambridge) as a haremA"the harem as I had lived it, the harem of older women presiding over the young."
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Ahmed, a professor of women's studies at Amherst and the author of such scholarly works as Women and Gender in Islam (Yale Univ., 1993), writes a personal memoir of her childhood in 1940s and 1950s Cairo, education in England, and teaching work in America. Like the most skillful and subtle of teachers, she entices you with what seems like an afternoon chat over tea; only when it is over do you realize how much you have learned and how fascinating the journey has been. She imparts a great deal of Egyptian history, culture, and sociology, including some background on the concept of "Arabness," as well as a brilliant introduction to the difference between the Islam of men and the Islam of women. The descriptions of her grandmother's salon will no doubt strike a chord of memory with any Western female who spent time listening to mothers, aunts, and grandmothers in the kitchen at family gatherings. A delightful read; recommended for libraries that collect in intercultural, gender, or Middle Eastern studies.AJulie Still, Rutgers Univ., Camden, NJ
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 307 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux (T); 1st edition (April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374115184
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374115180
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #616,321 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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By A Customer on October 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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