Disfigured: A Saudi Woman's Story of Triumph over Violence
by Rania Al-Baz

Olive Branch Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1-566-56735-0.
Reviewed by Rhonda Esakov
Posted on 12/02/2008
Review of the Month, December 2008

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus

You may have seen her picture splashed on many of the major news channels. Rania Al-Baz's story of her abuse in a Muslim country unfolded in a very public way when she was beaten and left for dead. The public uproar was felt all over the world. You may have even caught her on 60 Minutes or the Oprah Winfrey show as she speaks up for women's ability to choose their own destiny. In the book, Disfigured: A Saudi Woman's Story of Triumph over Violence, you will feel as if you are living the fast paced story that is so much better than what you may or may not have seen in TV and news journal coverage.

From the very first pages, I was absorbed by the story of one woman's very difficult life in the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In a land where every aspect of a woman's life is ruled by men, Rania becomes a symbol and well loved public face to the Muslim people as they struggle to overcome the stigma of a backwards society. As a TV journalist, she is one of the first Saudi women to show her face in a public format. A face that, once beautiful, has become disfigured through abuse and will require many surgeries to return to some semblance of normal.

As a child, she is ruled by a father who is very much "old school." For a Muslim, that means little or no education, arranged marriage plans and a very cloistered life. She is groomed to care for a household, maintain strict religious beliefs and bear children, preferably males—that's it. After she was forced into a divorce from her first husband, Rania tried to accept her life and find her place in the world. She loves her people and her country and embraces her religion. In her second marriage, the temper of an increasingly jealous and obsessive husband finally explodes in an episode that leaves her battered, near death and severely disfigured. With the help of a Princess and unheard of support from the Saudi ruling classes, Rania finds a new reason to live and come back fighting as a supporter of women's rights and spokesperson for abused women. With a stern resolve to protect her children from the stigma of a criminal for a father, she even stands up to the courts to show her forgiveness to the cruel man who left her for dead.

This is not a story of male dominated Muslim repression, but instead a brave recounting of the struggles women must face, in any culture, against abuse, divorce, child custody battles and being downtrodden. Rania has proven that despite living under the veil with strict societal and religious restrictions, Muslim women can be a source of inspiration to women everywhere.

Rania Al-Baz was a TV journalist for a program called "The Kingdom this Morning" and now is a spokesperson for an International group for women's rights. Her original book was published in French in 2005 with the current English version translated by Catherine Spencer. Rania now makes her home in Beirut, Lebanon.

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