This book does not simply report, it enlightens. Seabrook is a skillful author who masterfully relates the culture of the Arabian people he befriends. He tells dozens of fascinating stories, which he learns from his honorable hosts (I particularly enjoyed the tale of Gutne's eyes). The condition and station of women is written about, and the reasons for different cultural practices, such as honor killings in the Druse culture, are examined. Rather than judging these people and presenting women's oppression as an element of a less advanced culture, Seabrook objectively writes the views that his new comrades present. Certain practices begin to make sense as the reasons different cultures adopted them are made clear. While I could not possibly condone killing someone for marrying outside of one's own race, I could begin to understand the historical context that fostered the idea. Seabrook also writes about modesty, methods of cleanliness, medicinal practices, and what is eaten. Fermented goat's milk and rice are standard fare. The description of feminine beauty and dress in this story are simply unparalleled. "A two-year-old baby daughter was like a little doll or a princess from some fairy-tale. Her eyelids were blackened with kohl; her face was painted, delicately and with art; her hair was twined with bright coins and jewels; her finger-tips were stained pink with henna like the rosy dawn." Another attribute of this book is its approach to religion. Seabrook seeks out as many truths as the religious sects are willing to release. He writes about the rumors he hears, the holy men he meets, the interpretations his traveling partners offer, and the ceremonies he witnesses. In the end, I was left with the impression that we all share the same God, and Seabrook makes this argument without forcing it down the reader's throat. This was a splendid, engaging read, and I highly recommend it.
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