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Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
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  • Posted December 2, 2011

    Approachable, informative, and compelling.

    One of the most misunderstood aspects of Arab life is the harem. Long viewed by the West simply as a place of sensual abandon, promiscuity, and overall languor, the harem has suffered denigration and misrepresentation based largely on supposition alone. With her semiautobiographical Dreams of Trespass, author Fatima Mernissi subverts this Orientalist viewpoint by providing a much more accurate portrayal of harem life through the eyes of a nine-year old resident. This female narrator, also named Fatima, relates her life and the events of her world in an innocent fashion, yet her voice is wizened with an insight that bespeaks her burgeoning understanding of patriarchy. As she gains acumen into the familial structure of the harem, Fatima is plagued with confusion on both personal and political levels. She is, after all, a young girl, content with the games, laughter and trappings of childhood; yet she is also growing up in a highly sheltered world dominated by men, and this emerging reality constantly penetrates her thoughts. It is through this unique lens that the reader is invited to understand Fatima¿s struggle between boundary and freedom, and the distinct ways in which both are found within the harem. Young Fatima¿s world, restricted largely to her harem compound, is beset with boundaries ¿ both physical and implied ¬¿ and to that end, the book is rife with metaphor, as well as visually rich descriptions of Fatima¿s home. Her scope of life is widening with age and insight, and she begins to understand all the ways in which the home and family life she loves is indicative of a restriction she cannot name. Instead, she resorts to naming those things with which she is familiar. Often she sits on the threshold of the harem¿s courtyard and observes her world, describing the appointments of the harem and ultimately coming to a confused conclusion that there does, indeed, exist a freedom that remains tantalizing but intangible. And in a child¿s manner, Fatima discovers the cracks in her patriarchal home life, teasing into the slippages and winnowing out the ways in which she can maintain a loyalty to her family, yet grow into independence as an Arab woman. I appreciate not only the succinct way in which Mernissi begs social change from especially her female readers, but also the book¿s rich visuals, portrayed with photography and painted textually with Fatima¿s voice. The Moroccan art and architectural patterns that pervade the book also serve as a grounding point for Fatima ¿ a touchstone, a way in which she can remain secure through the things she knows, as she senses the changing world outside the harem. I believe this type of grounding is a way in which all women firmly grasp their place in their respective societies, and I applaud the skillful and affirming way in which Mernissi weaves together this global unity. I found this to be a beautifully compelling and insightful novel that offers a unique perspective into the realities of harem life. Mernissi¿s clever talent is apparent in using the young voice of Fatima to address not only the problematic position of Arab women in a patriarchal culture, but through the wide array of distinctive female voices in the book, Mernissi speaks to all women.

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  • Posted March 9, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Good insight

    If you want to understand what it's like to be a female raised in a traditional Muslim family, this book is a good start. Her family is strict, religious, and comparatively wealthy. There are no atrocities in this book; merely the tedium of not being allowed outside your home without permission from your husband or father. This includes going shopping, to the theater, and going to school. The women are not even allowed to listen to the radio without permission. It's kind of like being a declawed indoor cat in an American household. The trespass that Fatima dreams of is to experience life in all its fullness as men are allowed to do; to go to school and decide for herself what she wants to do with her life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2005

    Beautifully Written

    Dreams of Trespass was such a smooth, easy read with so many insights to the harem society. Many people have the thought that a harem is simply an erotic home but Dreams of Trespass illustrates the realistic harem and the woman behind it. Very well done!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2004

    Writing Gender in Islam

    Mernissi's memoir triumps with lyrical prose, and astute recollections. A wonderful introduction to the real Oriental harem.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2003

    Culture Versus Religion

    This is a well-written book...hard to put down. Although I enjoyed this book, I need to stress the fact that this book is a 'memoir' and should not be used as a reference to the life of a Muslim woman, but as a reference to women in Moroccan culture, and should be read as such.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2000

    An Outstanding Tale

    I had to read Dreams of Trespass for a Women Studies class and I was so grateful to be given the opportunity to read the book. It was so easy to read because it was as though the reader is being told a tale- much like the fascinating tales that Fatima Mernissi loved to hear from her Grandmother. It is a great portrayal of a girl who learns about her culture by discovering the issues of sex, gender roles, and family in the Fez Harem.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2000

    Enjoyable Reading Experience

    This is a delightful autobiography written to provide insight to the Western Culture regarding life in a harem. Innocent and factual. The reader feels comfortable and invited to be immersed in a harem experience and the Muslim culture. Mernissi nicely displays the gender inequalities present. Overall, this book was thoughfully written, and it will be sure to provide an enjoyable reading experience.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2000

    Life in the Harem

    If you are wanting to read a book about the Muslim women in the Harem, this book does a very good job of giving you this illustration. You can feel how trapped these women are. Throughout the book, you see how their lives go from resistance to hopelessness.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2000

    An excellent account of life in a Harem

    I thought this book was an easy and thought provoking read. Told from the eyes of a child growing up in a harem environment, it addressed many of the issues surrounding Harem life. The intended audience of this book was a western audience, to explain that our belief of what a harem is extremely different from the normal family harem. This book stated many of the inequalities women who lived in harems had to deal with, and explained them with a certain flair of childhood innocence. This book is an easy but interesting and informative read. Not only is it interesting but is an entertaining story of a childhood in a harem that will make you think about stereotypes and your beliefs in them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2000

    An Insight to Harem Life

    I felt this book was written extremely well. The author provided a look into harem life in Morocco through a child's eyes. The innocent perspective was enlightening for me in respect to the daily life of women. I enjoyed the easy reading and imagery the author presented. The book helps to explain and break some of the stereotypes I had of women from this particular culture. I would encourage anyone to pick up this book and read it. Not only is the book full of facts, a reader will enjoy learning them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2000

    Dreams of Trespass!!

    'Dreams of Trespass- Tales of a Harem Girlhood' is an excellent book to read not only for enjoyment but also for educational purposes. I read this book for a class but found that it was an easy read. The stories that Fatima, the book's main character, tells are interesting to someone like me. I was facinated at the tales, rules and regulations of harem life. The gate keeper and all of the anitcs the women of the harem pull keep the reader entertained. A good read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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