Mayada, Daughter of Iraq
This book by Jean P Sasson like all of her other books has a female protagonist in a middle-eastern setting. This is a true story about Mayada Al-Askari who belongs to the royal family. Her grandfather Sati Al-Husri is a much known and respected Arab nationalist and her paternal grandfather Jafar Pasha Al-Askari was a World War II hero. Coming from such a family, Mayada had known people in the government and officials high up and led a privileged life. She worked as a journalist in a magazine and had met Saddam Hussein twice in person and had been personally awarded by him for her outstanding work.
Slowly as the Saddam regime grew powerful, the condition of people became worse and more and more people fled to nearby countries like Jordan. Mayada’s mother, Salwa was also one among them who moved to Jordan to escape the terror in her homeland. She had tried to convince Mayada who couldn’t quite think of leaving her homeland and did not want to believe that things were quite so bad because it hadn’t affected them yet. The blue bloods always don’t quite see the real state of affairs quite when the commoners do because of this Mayada’s vision of Iraq was rosier than the reality.
Unfortunately for Mayada, her dreams were shattered when one day she was picked up from her printing shop and was locked up in jail without being told why. She was also not allowed to inform her children about her arrest. Her inability to reach out to her kids Fay and Ali troubles her. She is thrown into cell number 52 in the Baladiyat prison with 17 other inmates called as the ‘shadow women’. Each of them have a very similar story of being thrown into prison without any reason and each of their inability to inform their relatives/children troubles them.
These reality of what happened inside the prison can stir your insides. The torture the prisoners are put through for no apparent fault of theirs is just shocking and sometimes it is so inhumane that it is even hard imagine the existence of something that defies every human right out there. Pulling out the nails, electrical shocks with women coughing smoke later, beatings, abuse – every possible method of torture was employed by the secret police of the dictator. It is really touching to see how these shadow women did not envy or feel jealous of Mayada when she was to be released from the prison. On the contrary, they rejoiced her departure from the torture prison and were happy for her. They were also happy that someone would be sent out alive to tell people their stories, inform their relatives so they could help try and get them released from the prison.
The other important character is Samara another shadow woman of cell 52. She is one of the most beautiful and supportive shadow women in the cell. She is the one who helped Mayada and other women the most to build their will power and get through the hard times. Unfortunately the contact phone number she had given to Mayada when she was leaving the Baladiyat prison was not in use and thus no hope of relatives trying to help her get out of the prison. There was no silver lining for that cloud. Most of the investigation done by Mayada and others suggest that probably most of the inmates were executed before the war.
Overall, this book gives a good insight into the harsh realities under the Saddam regime but it isn’t a great read in terms of the way it has been put together. I think the content is what makes this book work. Sasson could have done a better job of stringing the story together in a better way because it does seem to get like your history textbook sometimes but I have to say it would be a gripping chapter in history.
Final verdict: 3/5