Samira Ahmed writes in this post why women writing about suffering in Islamic states are slated for supporting a patronising attitude towards those societies. The success of harrowing true stories of abuse and poverty led to a special label for books such as Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called It or Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. But while we can disagree about the literary merits of such “misery memoirs”, neither was accused of being a slur on Irish or American nationhood or the Catholic faith. When it comes to women and women who happen to be Muslim, though, there seems to be a different attitude the author contends. The emerging genre of memoirs about the suffering of women in Islamic states or cultures – which, in western publishing terms, may be described as “misery memoirs” – have been variously criticised for reinforcing “Orientalism”; that is to say, they support the west’s archaic and patronising attitude towards Middle Eastern, Asian and North African societies, rather than actually saying something important about the women in these societies themselves. The author suggests that according to the British publishing world Muslim women can’t write a credible memoir of suffering without it being wrapped up in the struggles of a nation. Yet even if as she suggests we ignore such attitudes, the uncomfortable reality is that the western publishing world is fascinated by such tales of female suffering and misery.
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