Sunday, March 11, 2012

I Am Nujood

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced
Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui

Nujood is a Yemeni girl, probably around 10 years old.  She is born in a very small village in the countryside where no records are kept of births. In a large family with illiterate parents no one is entirely sure of her age, but probably between eight and ten years.

As a young girl with older siblings there are many things happening around her that she doesn't understand.  She is interested in things children are.  Adult concerns are beyond her interests and understanding.

Nujood's family is cast out of their small village and go to Sana'a, the capitol of Yemen.  They arrive as a poor family.  Her father loses interest in supporting his family and spends his time chewing khat with his friends as his family loses their home and begin begging on the streets.  Eventually he agrees to marry Nujood off to a man three times her age in exchange for a dowry of about $750 (US value).

Understandably, Nujood is very upset by these circumstances and even more so as she learns what marriage means to a woman. Her husband forces himself on her night after night and beats her when she fights his advances. Her days are spent in dread of the coming night and the nightmares that follow. Somehow she finds the strength to go to the courts and ask for a divorce.  In her naive mind she believes it will be that easy.

Nujood was fortunate in connecting with judges and a strong female lawyer, Shada Nasser, who were outraged by her circumstances and fought for her divorce.  Although she was far below their legal age of marriage, her lack of birth records and the popular practice of marrying girls off this young was not in her favor of being granted a divorce. 

This book is Nujood's story and is told as simply as she tells it from the perspective of a child.  Her life and struggles are detailed but in its simplicity it failed to elicit the emotional response I expected of myself.  I am outraged that her story is one of many and that young girls are simply family possession in too many instances, but I felt detached from the story. For instance, Nujood was told by everyone in the legal system, her attorney and the judges, that her divorce would be very hard to get and she would likely fail.  However, it seemed to be granted very easily. Few details of the legal battle are shared.

I do feel it's a good "jumping off" point to learn more. I googled Nujood and Shada trying to find updates on either of them.  Nujood is doing well, the royalties from her book helping her family and her education.  Shada continues to help young girls in similar circumstances and lobbies for the legal age of marriage in Yemen to be raised.  There are more heartbreaking stories that parallel this one, indeed even in Nujood's own family.

I give the book three of five shots.  It's a story that needs to be told, but I would have liked more depth.

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