1. “The Woman Who Fell from the Sky: An American Journalist in Yemen” by Jennifer Steil (favorite of the three)
2. “The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam” by G. Willow Wilson
3. “Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War” by Megan K. Stack
Jennifer Steil and “The Woman Who Fell from the Sky” captivated me. Part memoir, part travelogue, part love story, it offered a fascinating look at Yemeni culture. Especially interesting was her argument that Yemeni people saw Steil, an American woman, as a third gender. She was clearly not a man but she was not a Yemeni woman, bound by cultural constraints, either. She was able to walk among men and women. Most of those she came in contact with respected her and wanted to learn from her.
G. Willow Wilson helped me see the error of my ethnocentric ways. As an American woman, I had a tendency to view Islam and the veil as sexist, backward, and oppressive. However, in “The Butterfly Mosque, it was Wilson’s choice to be Muslim and to wear a chador. Her extraordinary true story allowed me to see how, for Wilson, her conversion was freeing and enlightening. I was able to see her experience through a new lens and am better for it.
Do Elle readers really need an “education in war”? That was the question in my mind after finishing Megan K. Stack’s “Every Man in This Village Is a Liar.” There was just nothing new, fresh, or groundbreaking. Although I appreciated how Stack risked her life for the story, it seems we already know this stuff. Stack’s account would have had more impact if it had been published a few years ago. Her disillusion with the war is nothing new either as many Americans feel the same way.