Book Review: I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

Title: I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced
Author: Nujood Ali,
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 978-0-307-58967-5
Pages: 176
Genre: Memoir
Rating: 2 of 5
Reviewed for: Random House India 



Nujood must be 14 years old now but she has had an experience of a lifetime and lived a life that no girl would want, not even the ones in the most oppressed societies, not even where women do not know what it is to walk without a veil. A memoir that calls itself I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced calls for instant attention, especially when the blurb states that the story travels to us from Yemen. Stories from the Middle East have caught our fancy off late especially with memoirs like A long way gone creating the kind of furor, they did. Nujood’s story took the international media by storm in 2008 when she showed up at a court in Sana’a, Yemen. This book is her story.

Nujood Ali was a regular Yemeni 10-year-old girl living with her large family of brothers and sisters, an unemployed father, a subdued mother, an eloped brother and married-under-mysterious circumstances sister. A girl who loved drawing pictures with her color pencils, who loved mathematics and Koran, for whom grown up’s talks were confusing and who wanted to be a sea turtle putting her head under water as and when she wished. Her childhood is abruptly braked when her father arranges her marriage to Faez Ali Thamer, a man in his thirties – three times older than Nujood. According to Yemeni law girls of any age could be married off, though consummation of marriage is not allowed till the girl attains the age suitable for sexual intercourse (the age limit of which is ofcourse not documented) and to support their decisions father’s quote that the prophet Mohammad married Aïsha when she was just nine years old! Nujood is married off to Faez and is sent away to a village that is in the middle of nowhere, nearly disconnected with the world. What happens to little Nujood in the next two months of her married life that she runs away and lands up in the court seeking divorce, that she has tormented sleepless nights even months after the divorce, with a bursting door, rolling oil lamps and big hands over her filling her nightmares is what the book is about.

A heart wrenching tale of a little girl’s ordeal that turned her into a girl-woman overnight, the tale that led her to seek help from the most unimaginable quarters and finally getting it from strangers while her own failed her. It is a story of pain, inhuman torture and unspeakable torment – both mental and physical – and yet the story fails to move the reader beyond a point. While the tale itself is heart shattering, the narration falls flat. The story though written by Middle East correspondent Delphine Minoui with Nujood Ali, through out reads like a pretended child’s narration of events, a chronological recollection – it lacks soul. Even while it states that a reporter in the book flinched hearing the story, you do not flinch while reading the same scene earlier in the narration. You do not hate Faez, you do not detest her father, you feel bad for Nujood but you do not feel her pain, her torment or her humiliation. I am reminded of a similar memoir on female hurt and humiliation – by Kiranjit Ahluwalia with Rahila Gupta based in England. There you wanted Kiranjit’s husband to die and when she kills him eventually, you feel relief that she has escaped hell even though she is headed to a British prison. While Nujood’s story had hurt, humiliation and inhumane terror, it is not conveyed here in a way to awaken empathy.

While this book just narrated her tale something that we had seen in so many news reports in 2008, I would love to see Nujood’s story re-written without girth and with lots of passion. She stood up to a nation, to age-old traditions – her story deserves better.

Read to know her story but to feel it, we may have to wait longer.

Happy reading.

Nujood Ali’s divorce news coverage:

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