This novel, written by Fatima Mernissi, is considered to be one of the most significant books in explaining the social position of Arab and Muslim women.
It is an autobiography of author herself, as she had spent her childhood in Morocco during the 1940’s. Fatima presents the ideas, thoughts and dreams of the local people in a very effective way. She weaves in and out of these features, putting forward her life in a very appealing manner. Fatima ensures, that she puts forward the religious aspects and the cultural importance of various things, and how they tend to change with the technology innovations. These changes in technology had caused people to travel more and, as a result, people of various cultures and backgrounds come together. The author uses the book as a medium to explain things, which she once did not understand, and did not expect other people to understand as well.
The book has a very long lasting effect on the reader, as he faces the world through the eyes of Fatima and how she tries to make sense of the world around herself. She is faced by many rules and laws, which she does not understand fully, but has to follow, because of living in the society in which she was born.
One of the major themes is the covering of women. Women were required to stay inside harem in the house and were not allowed to leave it until they received consent of the male authority of the house. Even when they were allowed to leave, they had to be completely covered and hide their face under the veil.
The world was progressing swiftly and there was a shift towards protecting the rights of women and granting them freedom. This was also affecting the Muslim world. Even within Fatima’s household, there was a consistent shift towards the women rights. Some opposed to deviate from the traditional customs and principles, and others were pushing hard for liberation and freedom.
With all the conflict inside the household related to the rights of women, the eight year old Fatima tries to understand the essence behind these problems. She begins to search answers for essential questions, like what was a harem and why Muslim women were forced to inhabit it. A large portion of the book has this theme and how women of the society feel about it.
The author’s recalling of her childhood memories may seem to many as criticism of the woman life. However, author is aiming to highlight some instances, when a person is bound by the culture of the society which he or she lives in. But, the essence is that how they are able to face it and how the women in her community were able to channel their thoughts and lives in the society.
Therefore, by using the innocence of an eight year old child, Fatima puts forward many themes which and eight year old is unlikely to understand. These themes, in fact, help other people and the readers realize that there is always a clash between cultures and their inner self. This might not be easy to understand, but it exists and shapes the way of our lives. The women from author's childhood are faced by a similar situation.