I read this for book club or I would never have chosen it, but that’s one reason I’m in a book club–to make myself read outside of my comfort zone. It was interesting as far as it goes but I had to make myself pick it up in order to finish it because it just wasn’t that compelling.
This is the story of the spiritual journey of G. Willow Wilson, raised by atheist parents, who in her early twenties, decides to convert to Islam. A fact she doesn’t fully admit even to herself until she has traveled to Cairo, Egypt to teach in an English-language school in order to make use of the Arabic she has been studying at Boston University.
Even for a newly converted Sunni Muslim, life in Egypt is difficult. It’s a very dirty, loud, harsh city, under strict government control. (9/11 happens while she is still studying in Boston and the story takes place throughout the early to mid-2000’s).
Thanks to her friend Ben, who left Egypt just before Willow and her roommate Jo arrive, they have a place to live but they don’t eat much beyond olives for the first several weeks because they can’t figure out how and where to shop for food. Help arrives in the form of Omar, a friend of Ben’s who had promised to check up on the two women. He teaches them many important things about living in Egypt.
Although Willow eventually falls in love with Cairo, (as well as Omar, whom she marries), it was difficult for me to understand her love for such a difficult city. From a purely historical point of view, of course it has to be amazing, but to live there day-to-day, as she describes it, is incredibly difficult.
I did enjoy getting glimpses of a very different way of life and society. I also enjoyed the interactions between Willow and the very large extended family she marries into. But in the end, perhaps because the book is the story of her very personal spiritual journey, and I’m a religious skeptic,or perhaps because the story felt somehow shallow and superficial, her story did not resonate with me.