I have been meaning to write a proper review of Leila Ahmed's autobiography A Border Passage ever since I finished reading it a couple of months ago. But the inertia that has befallen any attempt at writing a substantive blog post once again prevents me from writing a well thought out review. I will leave you with the link to the Amazon page where the first three reviewers' opinions pretty much encapsulate what I may have said here. Somewhere down the thread, a couple of readers have commented that the book is not a typical autobiography (true) and that Ahmed has nothing interesting to say (not true).
A Border Passage is not about Ahmed's personal history but more a history of her family, that of the Egyptian society she grew up in and the changes she observed with the passage of time. In recounting them she gives her readers a brief tour of modern Egypt's evolution from the last part of the 19th century to the present, from being a part of the Ottoman Empire, a British colony and finally becoming an independent nation in the middle of the 20th century. The events chronicle the rise of Egyptian nationalism, the country's many attempts at shaking off the stranglehold of European colonialism and the dream of forging a liberal democratic system of government. Despite a vibrant political climate and a sizable secular western educated intelligentsia, democracy never did acquire a foothold in Egypt's political system. After the colonial rule was dismantled, it was replaced by successive homegrown military regimes. We are currently witnessing the struggles and aftermath of the so called Arab Spring in several middle eastern and north African Muslim countries. Egypt was one of the first nations to recently topple a totalitarian government by popular uprising. Whether democracy will finally arrive in Egypt is anybody's guess but the final outcome of the recent elections there may well have its roots in the Islamic nationalist movement set in motion in the 1930s and which the secular faction of Ahmed's parents' generation opposed vehemently.
I very much enjoyed A Border Passing. Ahmed's quiet and scholarly interpretation of Egyptian societal ethos, gender and class hierarchies, the stark divide between intellectual and cultural Islam and the many political upheavals that unfolded around her in Egypt, England and some parts of the middle east seem straightforward, thoughtful and sometimes surprising. The reader is not afforded much of an insight into the minutiae of the author's own personal conflicts, joys and sorrows, triumphs and failures, her moods or her love life. I think she intended it that way.