A review by whtbout2ndbrkfst
Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of Isis by Azadeh Moaveni


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.