Gaddafi's Harem: The Story of a Young Woman and the Abuses of Power in Libya

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Overview


Soraya was just fifteen, a schoolgirl in the coastal town of Sirte, when she was given the honor of presenting a bouquet of flowers to Colonel Gaddafi, “the Guide,” on a visit he was making to her school the following week. This one meeting—a presentation of flowers, a pat on the head from Gaddafi—changed Soraya’s life forever. Soon afterwards, she was summoned to Bab al-Azizia, Gaddafi’s palatial compound near Tripoli, where she joined a number of young women who were violently abused, raped and degraded by ...
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Gaddafi's Harem: The Story of a Young Woman and the Abuses of Power in Libya

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Overview


Soraya was just fifteen, a schoolgirl in the coastal town of Sirte, when she was given the honor of presenting a bouquet of flowers to Colonel Gaddafi, “the Guide,” on a visit he was making to her school the following week. This one meeting—a presentation of flowers, a pat on the head from Gaddafi—changed Soraya’s life forever. Soon afterwards, she was summoned to Bab al-Azizia, Gaddafi’s palatial compound near Tripoli, where she joined a number of young women who were violently abused, raped and degraded by Gaddafi. Heartwrenchingly tragic but ultimately redemptive, Soraya’s story is the first one of many that are just now beginning to be heard. But sex and rape remain the highest taboo in Libya, and women like Soraya (whose identity is protected by a pseudonym here) risk being disowned or even killed by their dishonored family members.

In Gaddafi’s Harem, an instant bestseller on publication in France, where it has already sold more than 100,000 copies in hardcover, Le Monde special correspondent Annick Cojean gives a voice to Soraya’s story, and supplements her investigation into Gaddafi’s abuses of power through interviews with people who knew Soraya, as well as with other women who were abused by Gaddafi.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A renowned French journalist for Le Monde uncovers another level of monstrousness in the recently overthrown dictatorship of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. Cojean’s riveting two-part story opens with the blunt firsthand account of the kidnap and rape of a young girl. In 2004, just after turning 15, Soraya was thrilled to present a bouquet of flowers to Gaddafi when he visited her school. The next day, three women from his Committee of the Revolution took her to visit his nearby encampment. She wasn’t allowed to leave. Soraya was bathed, made-up, and delivered to Gaddafi’s bedroom. Over the next five years, Gaddafi repeatedly raped and abused Soraya, forcing her to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, snort cocaine, and watch pornography. In the second half of the book, Cojean investigates Soraya’s story. Navigating traditional Libyan cultural silences on rape, Cojean locates anonymous sources who corroborate chilling descriptions of Gaddafi’s use of rape as a political weapon, and the resultant pall of disgrace cast on the victims and their families. Even after Gaddafi’s death and the collapse of his regime, it is the Libyan women who continue to suffer—reviled by their families, ignored by their government and the international community, living in silent shame. A moving and disturbing wake-up call to the personal costs of totalitarianism. Agent: Heidi Warneke, Éditions Grasset & Fasquelle. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

Praise for Gaddafi's Harem:

“An absolutely fascinating book.”—Tina Brown, speaking on NPR Morning Edition

“Deeply disturbing . . . [Cojean] makes her case solidly. . . . Cojean’s dogged reporting leads us to the same sad path the world has trudged down before. It is the weakest—the poor, the women, the children—who suffer the most.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Acclaimed French journalist Annick Cojean unveils the deranged dictator’s deviant sexual regime and his enslavement of young women throughout the country. The details are shockingly graphic and the stories horrifying, made even more so by the victim-shaming that has silenced the women in the aftermath.”—New York Daily News

“Not only should Cojean be praised for her unveiling of Gaddafi’s sexual atrocities, but more importantly, she has drawn attention to the severe improvement needed concerning women’s rights in Libya.”—Libya for the Free

“Annick Cojean provides a fact-based corrective to those fooled by Gaddafi’s illusions, specifically those impressed by the radical feminist image evoked by his once highly visible—and sexily transgressive—corps of ‘Amazon’ body guards.”—Libya Now

“In this compelling work of non-fiction, renowned French journalist Annick Cojean tells a story that is the stuff of nightmares. . . . An important book for anyone interested in women’s rights, social justice and international news.”—Winnipeg Free Press

“Cojean traces the tragic arc of Soraya’s life under Gaddafi’s iron rule—and reveals the systematic abuses of the despot who palled around with world leaders in public and who submitted his subjects (both male and female, powerful and lowly) to his cruel private lusts.”—The Daily Beast

“Exposes the full extent of Gaddafi’s brutality. . . . It’s hard not to weep at the cruelty one man inflicted on so many. . . . [But Cojean’s] persistence and Soraya’s courage have been rewarded. The fact that Cojean’s book has been translated into Arabic and is now freely available in Libya offers a small ray of hope for the future safeguarding of women’s rights in that troubled nation.”—Independent

“In this horrifying inside look at the lives of Libyan women under the Gaddafi regime, Cojean, a special correspondent for Le Monde, has created a work of powerful and compelling nonfiction that will stagger readers. . . . A journalistic exposé that can not be denied and that readers will not be able to put down.”—Booklist (starred review)

“A harrowing read, difficult to put down. . . . Cojean details Gaddafi’s perversion, the lengths to which his inner circle would go to satisfy his desire for women and power, and the systemic use of rape as a weapon of terror. She also elucidates the astounding challenges still faced by women who have been abused and enslaved under his regime, shedding light on an aspect of the dictatorship often hidden or dismissed, even within Libya. Gripping, deeply disturbing, and compulsively readable. Readers interested in women’s rights, global issues, or Gaddafi’s regime will find this book fascinating.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“A renowned French journalist for Le Monde uncovers another level of monstrousness in the recently overthrown dictatorship of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. . . .A moving and disturbing wake-up call to the personal costs of totalitarianism.”—Publishers Weekly

“In one moment, Gaddafi had indeed marked Soraya as special. And soon she would disappear completely. What happened to Soraya is recounted in Annick Cojean’s staggering new book.”—New York Post

“A personal account from one of Muammar Gaddafi’s former sex slaves. . . sheds even more light on the strange and terrifying lifestyle of Libya’s former dictator.”—Daily Mail

“A terrifying book-length investigation whose journalist author follows the trail of Soraya, bringing her story to life before embarking on a broader, no less chilling investigation into Gaddafi’s “system of sexual slaves,” the violated women that Gaddafi called his “girls”. She shows all the distress, loneliness, and fear of these young women, victims not only of a dictator but also of a society that considers their dishonor to be a national disgrace better left unspoken.”—Livres Hebdo

“Kidnapping, rape, humiliation. This was the fate of so many women who were held at the mercy of Colonel Gaddafi. In this shocking book, Annick Cojean gives these women a voice. . . [Gaddafi’s Harem] will stay with you for a long time . . . Cojean describes a terrifying system where young women were forced to satisfy the perverse desires of the “Guide,” under threat of terrible reprisals. . . . An exceptional piece of reporting.”—Elle (France)

“If you think you have discovered all of the quirks in Gaddafi’s character, you are mistaken. . . A study taken with great audacity by a senior reporter for Le Monde, and at some personal risk since these crimes are completely taboo in Libya, even today. Astonishing.”—Le Figaro

“This is a subject that is still taboo, even in the new Libya, a country which has barely overthrown its former tyrant. . . . Gaddafi joyfully paraded around like a feminist of the East, avowing his struggle “to liberate the women of the Arab nation.” But, completely at odds with the Bedouin suffragette Gaddafi pretended to be, Gaddafi’s Harem shockingly reveals his sexual exploitation of an entire country.”—Le Point

“You follow this remarkable investigation and relive the nightmare. Gaddafi’s Harem bears witness to an entire system that used rape as a weapon of terror.”—Marie Claire (France)

“Annick Cojean’s book, written in a precise and ultra-sensitive language, assembles facts and testimonies that appall, while also giving a behind-the-scenes view of high-risk reporting. Outstanding.”—Paris Match

“Lifts the veil on the terrible sexual abuses perpetrated by Gaddafi. A fantastic investigation. . . . Page after page, Cojean gives a name, a face and a voice to the victims of this devastating suffering.”—L’Express

“In 2011, Annick Cojean, senior reporter at Le Monde and special correspondent for Tripoli, wrote a shock article titled “Gaddafi’s sexual slave”, which was published on November 16 and which told the story of Soraya, a twenty-two-year old Libyan woman who had been kidnapped and held captive since the age of 15. In 2012, Cojean returned to Libya to continue her investigation. Her book, Gaddafi’s Harem, takes Soraya as its starting point to recount the fates of so many other women. She has gone to remarkable lengths – rape is the highest taboo in Libya – to collect these women’s stories.”—Le Monde

“This brutally honest account of a forty-two-year-long reign of terror and depravity, kidnappings and rape, plunges us headfirst into the dramatic story of Libyan womanhood and the law of silence imposed by Muammar Gaddafi.”—Stiletto

“Special correspondent at French newspaper Le Monde, Annick Cojean is an all-terrain journalist: she landed the final interview Princess Diana gave in 1997, but also won the Prix Albert-Londres for her set of reports entitled “Rembering the Shoah.” . . .Gaddafi’s Harem is at once poignant, terrifying, and unsettling.”—24 heures (Switzerland)

Library Journal
A best seller as soon as it was published in France earlier this year, French journalist Cojean's book proves to be a harrowing read, difficult to put down. The first half recounts in terrifying detail the narrative of Soraya, a Libyan teenage schoolgirl chosen by Colonel Gaddafi to be one of his "harem"—women, some of them extremely young, kept as slaves to satisfy his depraved and pathologic need for sex. The second half consists of Cojean's investigative journalism, which reveals stories of women held captive or controlled by Gaddafi and the vast network of accomplices and predators who enabled the dictator's systematic abuse of women even as he claimed to be their champion. Cojean details Gaddafi's perversion, the lengths to which his inner circle would go to satisfy his desire for women and power, and the systemic use of rape as a weapon of terror. She also elucidates the astounding challenges still faced by women who have been abused and enslaved under his regime, shedding light on an aspect of the dictatorship often hidden or dismissed, even within Libya. VERDICT Gripping, deeply disturbing, and compulsively readable. Readers interested in women's rights, global issues, or Gaddafi's regime will find this book fascinating. [See Prepub Alert, 3/25/13.]—Julie Edwards, Univ. of Montana Lib, Missoula
Kirkus Reviews
Acclaimed Le Monde journalist Cojean (Marc Riboud: 50 Years of Photography, 2004, etc.) investigates Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's extensive system of sexual predation, collecting testimony from many of his victims. At the age of 15, like many other pretty young Libyan and foreign women, "Soraya" (a pseudonym) was selected by members of Gadhafi's staff at a school ceremony and kidnapped from her home to be violently raped and abused by Gadhafi. She became one of many women kept in damp, windowless basement apartments under his residence to serve as sexual slaves and accessories to his public image. Her story is presented in the first half of this book, as she told it to Cojean. The second half of the book, narrated by the author, illuminates the broader story of Gadhafi's corrupt, sexualized regime in Libya through interviews with a wide variety of other affected Libyans. Diplomats, international celebrities, heads of state and university students were all targets, pursued with violence or lavish gifts, according to their status. Cojean emphasizes the difficulty of finding subjects who were willing to be identified due to the extreme social pressure in Libya to deny or maintain silence on sexual crimes; thus, many of her sources are anonymous. Soraya's memory sometimes seems suspiciously detailed, but the substance of her stories is confirmed by named sources. Cojean passionately desires justice for the women and families whose lives were destroyed by Gadhafi's regime and who continue to suffer under the victim-shaming of mainstream Libyan morality. Many of the events described are painful and shocking, and their presentation resembles court testimony: factual, grim and occasionally stilted. This is very much an exposé, but readers looking for titillation are likely to be disappointed. An important contribution to the understanding of Gadhafi's regime and the social and political challenges that confront Libya now.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802121721
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/3/2013
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,024,302
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


Annick Cojean, special correspondent for Le Monde, is one of France’s most widely admired journalists. She chairs the committee for the Prix Albert Londres, the French equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, and won the prize herself in 1996. She is the author of several books.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2013

    Excellent insight into the incredibly evil dictator

    Well narrated story of an young girl caught into the harem of gaddaffi's Harem of torture. Insightful and important to understand what was happening

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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