Reviews

Guest House for Young Widows: among the women of ISIS by Azadeh Moaveni

katiegaylorr's review against another edition

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challenging dark informative reflective tense medium-paced

4.0

whtbout2ndbrkfst's review against another edition

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5.0

Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS is a powerhouse of a novel by Azadeh Moaveni. It is not a quick read and is sometimes hard to keep track of as it follows the story of more than a dozen women from 2007 - 2017. However, the writing is clear and engaging and Moaveni takes the time to walk readers through the historical context of what's happening in each country as well as globally. The women she chose to highlight were fascinating and had a diverse array of backgrounds that brought them to ISIS.

Their stories were treated with finesse and understanding and Moaveni didn't hesitate to call out the US, UK, and Germany alongside Syria, Iran, and Iraq for their role in both creating ISIS and a culture that allowed these girls and women to be manipulted by it. She was able to be critical of these women's descisions without losing compassion. Many of them were children, or mislead by lovers, or truly in search of a way to practice their religion freely, and Moaveni was able to capture their idealistic intentions without forgiving the end result.

Some have criticized her work saying Moaveni has extreme negativity for the West or too much forgiveness for the women of ISIS. I personally, didn't find this to be the case. While she treats these subjects with empathy, she never excuses their actions - only seeks to find the influences behind them. Moaveni also acknowledges in text that there are other women not included in this novel who committed atrocities. I feel books like this are essential to understanding how cults, extremism, terrorist groups, etc. prey on the most vulnerable - turning bullying, frustration, laws against religions freedom, poverty, and shame into a catalyst for membership by preying on society's most vulnerable.

These accounts felt real and truthful. From a Western perspective it so easy to dismiss these women as unforgivable, but Moaveni asks the reader to reevaluate that gut instinct and instead look to the plethora of reasons an individual turns to extremism and how, we, as a society, can better counteract that - through education, policy reform, religious freedom, unbiased reporting, and better protection of our youth.

I also appreciated the excerpts from her previously published articles as they helped add context to the timeline and what was happening around the world as these 12 girls/women navigated it.

nightowlbibliophile's review against another edition

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challenging informative medium-paced

4.0

gilmoremk's review against another edition

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5.0

I really liked this one. It was a sympathetic and unflinching look at the women who left their homes to join the ISIS caliphate in the mid 2010's, and it made 3-dimensional people who have been presented as 1-dimensional villains. It's not to say that it presents the women as good people - many of the women agree with the violence that ISIS perpetrated upon those who didn't agree with their ideology, and the author's discomfort with this does come through at times - but it does show that everyone has a reason for the decisions that they take. I liked that the narrative was presented chronologically, so that the rise and fall of ISIS was the backbone of the storyline. It helped me place the women's decisions and struggles and see them in the wider picture. It was tough to read all of the Islamaphobia that the women and their families faced, and I do agree with the author's conclusion that the continued intolerance in the West of conservative Islamic practices helps to fuel the extremism that enables actors like ISIS. I don't think it's the only factor, but it sure isn't helping to prevent extremism.

cpalisa's review against another edition

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4.0

Gosh, I have to say that I really know so very little about a lot of this stuff! So much new information here and a lot to think about. The other reviews say things much more eloquently, but essentially this follows 13 different women/girls from around the world that ended up joining ISIS. The reasons are varied - some wooed by ISIS bloggers or internet prophets, some following loved ones, some looking for a homeland to practice their religion freely - every story is a bit different. Anyhow, it just sheds a light on what may have led these particular women/girls on a path that was so destructive. Very eye opening and interesting. My only complaint was that it was difficult to keep all the people and places straight. I understand that the entire book was written with a chronological flow, but it was really hard to remember who was who when a new section popped up. And, I really would have liked more information on how they all ended up. I think it might have been in there in bits and pieces but was a little hard to follow. All in all, super interesting though.

carysjw's review against another edition

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challenging informative reflective sad slow-paced

3.5

specialk136's review against another edition

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3.0

It's taken me a long time to write this review because I'm not totally sure how I feel about this book. So instead of tying my comments up in a neat little bow, I'll just make some stray observations.

The author definitely does have a perspective that she slips in, and she generally is sympathetic to these women and sometimes critical of America's role in the wars. However, sometimes it is helpful to look at a situation from a different perspective. The Middle East is complicated, Americans aren't necessarily saints in foreign policy, and we don't often think about how our actions affect real people living in other countries.

There were so many women introduced in this book I had a really hard time keeping track of who was who and what their stories were.

I wish there was more information on how and where the author met these women. There are ZERO footnotes.

Some other reviewers dismissed this book because they felt it was trying to make the women who joined ISIS too sympathetic. I have thoughts on that.
1. It's worthwhile to ask why seemingly good, normal women signed up voluntarily for such an evil regime. ISIS tended to offer an escape from life situations in which the women had few good options. Their knowledge of Islam varied and some were more susceptible to the propaganda of ISIS recruiters. In one memorable instance, the classes on Islam a woman took after joining ISIS made her realize ISIS was not practicing Islam as preached and she realized she had to leave. In many cases the reasons were more social than idealogical. Do we or should we apply a different standard to women who joined because ISIS promised a better life (and became disillusioned), than those who joined because they were truly radicalized (and still are)?
2. While some ISIS women were fighters, no one in this book seemed to do much beyond cook, clean, and make babies for their fighter husbands (however, the author does note it was hard to get the women to agree to be interviewed and she doesn't know what they may have held back). If you enable a system without understanding how evil it really is, does this matter?
3. The women the author interviewed are currently stuck in refugee camps with no path forward. The caliphate is no longer, but their home countries won't take them back. Does the punishment fit the crime, especially when it involves their children who are also living in these camps? I don't have an answer for that.
4. On the other hand, the book tracks the Bethnel Green girls who were so memorably captured on CCTV leaving England for Syria. There's a recent video of a reporter interviewing one of them in a refugee camp. She doesn't come across super sympathetic. The difference in my sentiment towards her from seeing her on camera vs. reading about her in this book was stark.

All this adds up to a book I don't really know what to do with. Could it have been executed better? Yes. Will you come away as confused about big questions as I was? Probably. Is it a worthwhile read? For sure. Read and come to your own conclusions.

rozzles95's review against another edition

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4.0

I found this book really insightful, it certianly still holds water in 2023. My interest was initially sparked after listening to the BBC podcast on Shemima Begum. I found all of the stories interesting, and I think that the diversity of the women and their reasons for joining IS was very well portraied. Especially interetsing was the political background that although I had some awareness of, had never peaced together for myself.

geewhizz69's review against another edition

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challenging emotional informative reflective sad medium-paced

5.0

kindledspiritsbooks's review against another edition

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5.0

The Guest House for Young Widows is a gripping non-fiction account of thirteen different women who sought to join ISIS and live in the Islamic State. From British schoolgirls to Syrian university students to German housewives, Moaveni examines the different reasons that women around the world chose to collaborate with a terrorist regime. As someone who felt deeply uncomfortable with the conversation that surrounded Shamima Begum’s attempt to return to her home in the United Kingdom, I loved that this book thoughtfully tackled the thorny questions of how the women of Isis should be treated and what governments can do to break the cycle of conflict in the Middle East.