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Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Fatima Mernissi

Relates the story of a woman born in a harem in Morocco, growing up with wise, funny, individualistic women, and creating a fantasy world from sheer imagination because the outside world was inaccessible.

Author: Fatima Mernissi
Genre: Biography & Autobiography, Social Science
Publisher: Basic Books
Date Published: September 03, 1995
1 review about Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood

It might not be what you’d think…

  • Feb 18, 2004
Pros: Entertaining and insightful

Cons: Abrupt ending

The Bottom Line: It's very good - go for a taste of the exotic and see what you think.

See? I have an ability to review more sophisticated things as well. =P Hehe.

Actually, I had to read this book for my Women in Africa class at my school. My class is just a general education course, and I wasn’t too excited to read a bunch of books for it, but once I started this one, I knew it wouldn’t mind reading it at all.

On the title it says: Dreams of Trespass; Tales of a Harem Girlhood. Now you might be thinking what I was when I first read that title. “Whoa, growing up a in harem? Like, the kind those kings in India have? With hundreds of women? This should be interesting…” However, once you begin, you immediately realize that this is not the kind of thing we typically associate the word harem with. Many people just think, harem: a bunch of women a sultan (or something) uses for sex – a personal brothel if you will. But this is quite different. This harem, though it does have many women in it, they are not all there to be used for sex. In fact, here it is one large house with one big family in it. Sure, some of the men are going to have more than one wife, but not many at all.

But enough of my rambling about the title. This book is written by Fatima Mernissi, the girl who is narrating the book and telling us what it is like to live in this manner. She has a very fun way of doing it – because she is a little girl when she tells these tales, and so we get them told to us in a simple manner which makes things easier for us to grasp. We are learning as she is learning. It’s quite ingenious really. =P Now let’s get to the inside of the book.

1. My Harem Frontiers
2. Scheherazade, the King, and the Words
3. The French Harem
4. Yasmina’s First Co-Wife
5. Chama and the Caliph
6. Tamou’s Horse
7. The Harem Within
8. Aquatic Dishwashing
9. Moonlight Nights of Laughter
10. The Men’s Salon
11. World War II: View from the Courtyard
12. Asmahan, the Singing Princess
13. The Harem Goes to the Movies
14. Egyptian Feminists Visit the Terrace
15. Princess Burdur’s Fate
16. The Forbidden Terrace
17. Mina, the Rootless
18. American Cigarettes
19. Mustaches and Breasts
20. The Silent Dream of Wings and Flights
21. Skin Politics: Eggs, Dates, and Other Beauty Secrets
22. Henna, Clay, and Men’s Stares

We are in the Mernissi harem in Morocco, Africa. This is during a time when Morocco had potential to change – for women to be more free, for men to only marry one woman, for children (especially girls) to go to school longer and learn more. During a time when World War II was raging in Europe and when you read what these people know about it, you might be surprised and shake your head at their ignorance or you might just shrug and understand. When the French started to move into Morocco and Americans in the military started showing up on its shores.

Each chapter is a well-written short slice-of-life story, many of which have an issue to tend to. Many of these issues deal with the problems and differences between men and women. Women must obey so many rules and stay within many boundaries, and throughout all of this Fatima is trying to understand how and why she must do all this. The women in these stories are always either dreaming of trespassing those frontiers (or boundaries) or simply doing it, in some shape or form – with the exception of a few of the older women who are tied to tradition. There are instances of outright rebellion, such as when an aunt tried to run right out of the gate without permission, or simple underlying resistance, as when Fatima’s father tried to please her mother by allowing her a secret meal (away from the large family meal where everyone must eat the same thing at the same time) on the terrace with only Fatima, her mother, father, and cousin Samir allowed to come.

I didn't mind reading this book at all and practically flew through it. You’ll love all the characters that come into play, like Fatima’s feisty mother, Chama with her dramatic acting abilities, or kind and understanding Aunt Habiba. My only issue with this book was that the ending was very abrupt. I guess it makes sense – because it was as though it was just one more tale and then Fatima Mernissi ran out and that was it. Maybe that’s what actually happened, but I would have loved to have something at the end saying what happened to the women, especially Mernissi, and whether or not any of them ever escaped the harem (or in Mernissi’s case, how).

But I do recommend giving this book a try – even if it’s not required for a class. It won’t take that long to read, and it might make you respect your position and the position of women in Africa a little more.



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