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The Butterfly Mosque

by G Willow Wilson
Reviewed by BN Aziz

With a title like Butterfly Mosque, I thought, this book promises something special. It was Sally, a young member of our RadioTahrir team who introduced me to the name of its American author, Willow Wilson. Recently Wilson reappeared with the publication of yet another book, a fantasy adventure novel Alif, The Unseen. I decided to revisit her 2003 memoir.

Butterfly Mosque is not the only autobiography of a young woman’s foray into the Arab world. Nor is it a unique record of religious conversion to Islam. (e.g. Yvonne Ridley who documented her experience a decade ago after her captivity by Afghan rebels.) What makes Butterfly Mosque exceptional is its intimacy. Because Wilson’s entry into Islam and Egyptian culture is woven into her love of Omar, a young man she meets early on and eventually marries.  The story is told in terms of culture rather than politics or religion.

The ‘butterfly’ of the title implies gradual metamorphosis and indeed this is a story of someone who emerge into maturity without any special preparation. We know from her account in the early chapters about her carefree almost naïve (typical American?) college years. She wasn’t even a religious skeptic, just a young woman who decides to take up a job offer in Egypt.

In my recent interview with her (to be broadcast in March, 2013) Wilson explains how quickly the book came together from an assembly of emails with her family and friends in the US during her early months in Cairo, and her exchanges with them about what was happening to her. Yet this is more than a collection of letters; there is a real writer’s hand at work here.  



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