My Accidental Jihad


Fifteen years ago, Krista Bremer would not have been able to imagine her life today: married to a Libyan-born Muslim, raising two children with Arabic names in the American South. Nor could she have imagined the prejudice she would encounter or the profound ways her marriage would change her perception of the world.

But on a running trail in North Carolina, she met Ismail. He was passionate and sincere?and he loved adventure as much as she did. From acquaintances to lovers to a ...

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My Accidental Jihad

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Fifteen years ago, Krista Bremer would not have been able to imagine her life today: married to a Libyan-born Muslim, raising two children with Arabic names in the American South. Nor could she have imagined the prejudice she would encounter or the profound ways her marriage would change her perception of the world.

But on a running trail in North Carolina, she met Ismail. He was passionate and sincere—and he loved adventure as much as she did. From acquaintances to lovers to a couple facing an unexpected pregnancy, this is the story of two people—a middle-class American raised in California and a Muslim raised by illiterate parents in an impoverished Libyan fishing village—who made a commitment to each other without forsaking their own identities.

It is the story of a bicultural marriage—and aren’t all marriages bicultural? In any marriage, we might discover that our mate is foreign to us, with very different language, memories, and assumptions about home and family. How we respond to difference shapes our world.

Profoundly moving and often funny, this meditation on tolerance explores what it means to open our hearts to another culture and to embrace our own. It is Krista Bremer’s unexpected struggle to reach beyond herself, her accidental Jihad.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bremer, associate publisher of the Sun, explores the points of connection—and potential conflict—in her marriage to Libyan-born Ismail. Bremer, a surfing aficionado, feminist, avid traveler, and aspiring journalist, was not looking for a commitment when she began dating the older Ismail and shortly thereafter became unexpectedly pregnant. Her eventual surrender to a different kind of imagined future forms one of the memoir's central themes, as does the couple's evolving conversations on such issues as circumcising their son and encouraging their daughter's desire to wear the Muslim headscarf to school. One extended section recounts the couple's first visit to Libya, a trip during which Bremer addresses the political realities of Ismail's home country and finds herself alienated from and unexpectedly drawn to Ismail's family, so unlike her own white suburban American one. The memoir does not, however, offer similar insights into Ismail's (assumed) interactions with Bremer's extended family—such a focus could have offered rich potential for critical examination of and revelations about Bremer's own upbringing rather than merely the exotic otherness represented by Ismail's clan. Nevertheless, Bremer's particular story strikingly highlights the (usually more mundane) cultural clashes and compromises inherent to every marriage or long-term relationship. (Apr.)
Review quotes
My Accidental Jihad is a bold piece of writing (and thinking) by an incredibly brave woman.” —Elizabeth Gilbert, author of The Signature of All Things and Eat, Pray, Love

“Told with rare honesty, My Accidental Jihad is the story of Krista Bremer's lifelong quest for insight and understanding, a search that leads her out of the Pacific surf to journalism school in North Carolina and through the complex challenges and unexpected joys of a cross-cultural marriage and family. This book is a powerfully personal account of the courage and hard work necessary to open one's heart and keep it that way.” —Maggie Shipstead, author of Seating Arrangements

My Accidental Jihad is one of the most captivating and moving memoirs I've read in years. The story Krista Bremer tells—one of radical foreignness between a married couple—could be a metaphor for all committed relationships.” —Haven Kimmel, author of A Girl Named Zippy

“Lucid, heartfelt and profoundly humane, My Accidental Jihad navigates the boundaries of religion and politics to arrive at the universal experience of love.” —G. Willow Wilson, author of Alif the Unseen

Kirkus Reviews
A moving, lyrical memoir about how an American essayist fell in love with a Libyan-born Muslim man and learned to embrace the life she made with him. Sun associate publisher Bremer was a wayward former California surfer girl just starting to build her life in North Carolina when she met Ismail. He was 15 years older than she and different from her in almost every possible way. Yet his gentle simplicity made her feel as though she could "finally exhale…and [open] up to [herself]" in ways she had not been able to with anyone else. When she unexpectedly became pregnant not long after they met, she faced a difficult choice: terminate the pregnancy and continue her pursuit of a promising career in journalism or keep the baby and accept Ismail's heartfelt offer of marriage. Unable to resist the mysterious allure of the future she "never intended—or even knew how much [she] wanted," Bremer chose to "stitch [their] mismatched lives together to make a family." Among the many challenges she encountered was coming to terms with Ismail's loving but traditionalist family in Tripoli. To them, she was a woman "weighed down by so much individualism, impatience, and desire." Yet through her visits with them, she also learned to temper the Western individualism she came to realize had been the source of the "creeping despair that comes from doggedly chasing the elusive dream that women can be everything at once." As she gradually came to accept a different way of living—and eventually, worshipping—in middle-class America, Bremer grew to appreciate Ismail, her extended family and the struggle they brought into her life more than she even imagined possible. A sweet and rewarding journey of a book.
Library Journal
Bremer (associate publisher, The Sun) focuses her memoir on the contrast between the cultures of a man and a woman who meet on a running trail, fall in love, and decide to marry and raise a family together. A selfish, materialistic American woman who formerly worked as a pregnancy counselor finds herself on the other side of a pink test strip and marries the older, overbearing, irrational Libyan-born Muslim who is the father of her child. Ismail grew up in Africa with an illiterate father who was a shopkeeper but earned very little money. As a middle-class teenager in the United States, Bremer worked in an ice cream store to be able to afford more designer clothing. The couple's experience of Christmas and Ramadan show the stark difference between their customs. While Bremer is frantically shopping, wrapping, and decorating, Ismail can only ask her: "Why?" Meanwhile, Ismail, who is regimented by the monthlong Ramadan fast, has no patience for his wife's overindulgence, causing Bremer to wonder with annoyance if, when, and how her husband will find his Christmas spirit. VERDICT Bremer won a Pushcart Prize for her essay on which this book is based; her writing appears in numerous magazines (O: The Oprah Magazine; More). Readers of memoir will welcome this love story about patience and kindness and learning the importance of putting culture first.—Joyce Sparrow, Kenneth City, FL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616200688
  • Publisher: Workman Publishing Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/22/2014
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 298,104

Meet the Author

Krista Bremer is the associate publisher of The Sun magazine and the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation award. Her essay on which this book is based, “My Accidental Jihad,” received a Pushcart Prize. Her essays have been published in O: The Oprah Magazine, More magazine, and The Sun, and she’s been featured on NPR and in the PBS series Arab American Stories. Her website is

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