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Guest House for Young Widows

Among the Women of ISIS
Written by: Azadeh Moaveni
Narrated by: Sarah Agha
Length: 13 hrs and 57 mins
4 out of 5 stars (8 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A gripping account of 13 women who joined, endured, and, in some cases, escaped life in the Islamic State - based on years of immersive reporting by a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Finalist for the Baillie Gifford Prize • Named one of the 10 Best Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly and one of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review • NPR • Toronto StarThe Guardian

Among the many books trying to understand the terrifying rise of ISIS, none has given voice to the women in the organization; but women were essential to the establishment of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s caliphate.

Responding to promises of female empowerment and social justice, and calls to aid the plight of fellow Muslims in Syria, thousands of women emigrated from the United States and Europe, Russia and Central Asia, from across North Africa and the rest of the Middle East to join the Islamic State. These were the educated daughters of diplomats, trainee doctors, teenagers with straight-A averages, as well as working-class drifters and desolate housewives, and they joined forces to set up makeshift clinics and schools for the Islamic homeland they’d envisioned.

Guest House for Young Widows charts the different ways women were recruited, inspired, or compelled to join the militants. Emma from Hamburg, Sharmeena and three high school friends from London, and Nour, a religious dropout from Tunis: All found rebellion or community in political Islam and fell prey to sophisticated propaganda that promised them a cosmopolitan adventure and a chance to forge an ideal Islamic community in which they could live devoutly without fear of stigma or repression.

It wasn’t long before the militants exposed themselves as little more than violent criminals, more obsessed with power than the tenets of Islam, and the women of ISIS were stripped of any agency, perpetually widowed and remarried, and ultimately trapped in a brutal, lawless society. The fall of the caliphate only brought new challenges to women no state wanted to reclaim.

Azadeh Moaveni’s exquisite sensitivity and rigorous reporting make these forgotten women indelible and illuminate the turbulent politics that set them on their paths.

©2019 Azadeh Moaveni (P)2019 Random House Audio

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  • Carolyn
  • 24-05-20

Unlike anything else I have read

...wow. I wish I had a more eloquent way of starting this out, but I am just going to stick with the visceral reaction I had to this gut-wrenching, mind-boggling, and incredibly impactful book.

For decades, the subject of terrorism has pervaded nearly every facet of life, from changes to the law in the name of national security, immigration policy, and even popular culture. An ugly and sinister vein of xenophobia and nationalism has grown throughout the west.

Meanwhile, life for many citizens from south Asia to the Middle East to Africa has become a revolving door of corrupt governments, military interventions from other nations, sectarian violence, echoes of colonialism, and religious fundamentalism and extremism.

What does all this mean to a woman who is a practicing Muslim? As the stories in this book show, it means a lot of different things. It means fear, uncertainty, disillusionment, defensiveness, and an incredibly complex search for identity and empowerment when it seems the whole world demands something different of you, with many of those demands in direct conflict with one another.

More than anything these stories put human faces to these very real women; to situations in their lives you may never experience, to choices you may never have to make, to beliefs that may starkly contradict your own. And, these are not pat, neatly-wrapped fables or morality plays. These are the lived experiences of women who, for one or many reasons, were drawn into the Islamic State and what it purported to represent.

Do not go into this book with judgment in your heart. If you cannot set aside anger and condemnation for long enough to get through this book, wait until you are at an emotional point where you can. It sets forth a complex and challenging narrative, and a reader would do themselves a disservice by picking up this book with a preconceived notion of what the "women of ISIS" will mean. If you can approach this book with your mind open to seeing these women, their dreams, their choices, and how their lives have played out, it is an amazing read that will stay with you.

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  • C
  • 09-04-20

captivating

absolutely captivating stories of the women, need to read in few sittings or might be confusing to keep up with who is who

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  • Jacques Roberge
  • 04-12-19

Outstanding account providing context and understanding of women’s experiences in middle eastern wars

Balanced, engaging and well researched accounts of the lives of a group of young Islamic women who were involved, in varying degrees, with ISIS.

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  • Kara
  • 04-11-19

wow!

Azadeh Moaveni has done it again! Her ability to tell such a captivating story knows no end.

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  • Lisbeth
  • 25-09-19

Enlightening

This is a fascinating and revealing view of the lives of young women who, for a variety of reasons, became emeshed in the world of ISIS and the Islamic State throughout the last decade. It is well researched and clarified some of the misconceptions I had about this aspect of the world.

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  • Mauve dreamer
  • 03-11-19

Excellent

Exceptional book. Very interesting and informative. Well researched by the Author, being a journalist I would expect. Really does give a proper nuanced insight into the reasons of which are not easily defined. Highly recommend. Very sad and also an indictment of Western Governments complete lack of understanding of the whole issue. Lot's I could say,however I would say read it and I hope it will challenge people's misconceptions. Narrator was excellent too.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 24-03-20

Educational, moving book with superb narration

Illuminating and stirring accounts woven together with a fascinating background history of the Middle Eastern. Moving narration and great clarity of voice from the reader. Brilliant.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-03-20

Amazing

A thoroughly engaging book which was narrated excellently throughout. I would absolutely recommend listening to this.

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  • Sasha Hamilton
  • 02-03-20

Gripping story with brilliant narration

Compelling book, extensively researched and deeply enlightening on such a sensitive topic. Flawless narration, crystal clear diction and poignant in all the right places.

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  • Bee
  • 18-10-19

Explanation of the Inexplicable

A useful, clear analysis of (some) the reasons why.

I read a review which was very scathing about the narration and I was almost put off buying but there's nothing much wrong with it, if anything it's a little monotone.

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  • ANAHITA REZVANIRAD
  • 11-09-19

The narration is just awful

Fantastic book. Just what we need in this time of confusion and mistrust but I can not stand the narrator! Constant pauses and questions marks when not needed!!!! Better just to read the book if you can

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  • Jenny Cutler
  • 25-05-20

Hard read to keep up with but definitely worth it.

Fiercely read, with good reason. Incredible diction, which is essential as it's such a complex account of the social interactions between different races, sexes and religions of everything that goes on between Bethnal Green and the terrifying war-torn parts of the earth. An incredibly intelligent attempt to explain at a gigantic unfathomable subject.

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  • Anjali Puri
  • 22-04-20

Reality can be heartbreaking

it is a lovely book. My only issue was that I listened to it during the lockdown... which, I feel, warrants lighter reading. The stories of the women in this book are heartbreaking. I feel that young, vulnerable girls should be exposed to these stories...

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  • Clare
  • 01-12-19

Guest House for Young Women

The narrator is awful. Staccato and pause
s inappropriately so that both listening and comprehending is affected- and not for the better. She has good pronunciation of Muslim etc words but that is the only positive thing I can say.