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Excellent Daughters ✶ [BOOKS] ✪ Excellent Daughters By Katherine Zoepf ❀ – Thomashillier.co.uk For than a decade Katherine Zoepf has lived in or traveled throughout the Arab world reporting on the lives of women whose role in the region has never been in flux Only a generation ago female adoles For than a decade Katherine Zoepf has lived in or traveled throughout the Arab world reporting on the lives of women whose role in the region has never been in flux Only a generation ago female adolescence as we know it in the West did not exist in the Middle East There were only children and married women Today young Arab women outnumber men in universities and a few are beginning to face down religious and social tradition in order to live independently to delay marriage and to pursue professional goals Hundreds of thousands of devout girls and women are attending ur’anic schools—and using the training to argue for greater rights and freedoms from an Islamic perspective And in young women helped to lead antigovernment protests in the Arab Spring But their voices have not been heard Their stories have not been toldIn Syria before its civil war she documents a complex society in the midst of soul searching about its place in the world and about the role of women In Lebanon she documents a country that on the surface is freer than other Arab nations but whose women must balance extreme standards of self presentation with Islamic codes of virtue In Abu Dhabi Zoepf reports on a generation of Arab women who’ve found freedom in work outside the home In Saudi Arabia she chronicles driving protests and women entering the retail industry for the first time In the aftermath of Tahrir Suare she examines the crucial role of women in Egypt's popular uprising Deeply informed heartfelt and urgent Excellent Daughters brings us a new understanding of the changing Arab societies—from to Tahrir Suare to the rise of ISIS—and gives voice to the remarkable women at the forefront of this change.

  • Hardcover
  • 258 pages
  • Excellent Daughters
  • Katherine Zoepf
  • English
  • 26 November 2014
  • 9781594203886

About the Author: Katherine Zoepf

Katherine Zoepf lived in Syria and Lebanon from to while working as a stringer for The New York Times; she also worked in the Times’s Baghdad bureau in Since she has been a fellow at New America Her work has appeared in The New York Observer The Chronicle of Higher Education The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker among other publications She is a graduate of Pri.

10 thoughts on “Excellent Daughters

  1. Diane S ☔ Diane S ☔ says:

    Their lives are so incredibly different from ours it is hard to comprehend The author takes us to various counties in the Middle East talking to girls and women in these places and though different supposed freedoms vary in different countries most are at the mercy of the men in their lives Female circumcision so hard to read but the one that really got to me was the story of the young girl killed in a honor killing absolutely heartbreaking because what happened to this girl was not her fault Other girls at risk for honor killings are put in prison for protection until they are eighteen shelters for abuse victims do not existAlthough I found the title a misnomer small strides may exist but I only found larger differences in the Persian gulf There woman are working though many still follow the strictures from their home societies but do find when going back that even these little freedoms are hard to give up Many defend the systems they are raised under considering it disrespectful and against their religion not to do so Many cannot conceive of any other way The men seem not to take responsibility for anything they are allowed unlimited freedoms though some are tolerant and lenient than others A very eye opening book one that is timely with all the attention that has been drawn to the Muslim religion as a whole Change if it comes to this region will be slow and will have to gain the support of of the male figures I fear This is the first time I have gone back and added something to my review but this book has really made me think There are a few things they have that we no longer do families are very close often raised within distance of each other and a sense of family is revered Here families are often miles apart and it is hard to gather a whole family unit together Also women time the women spend much time of course with other women Here that is often not possible with our busy lives jobs and other responsibilities This is not to excuse that seclusion and lack of choices these women face nor their mistreatment at times at the hand of men but I guess there is a tradeoff with freedom comes a loss of other thingsARC from Netgalley

  2. Esil Esil says:

    Excellent Daughters is an excellent book But its subtitle is a bit deceiving The author Katherine Zoepf is an American reporter who has spent a number of years in the Middle East For the purposes of her book she spent time in a few Arab countries where she got to know a number of young Muslim women She reports on her conversations with them and on her observations of their lives Her observations are not uniform young women have different lives depending on the country they live in and their specific family circumstances Some of what she reports is horrifying honour based violence Much of what she reports seems unfathomable to me young women who are never in the presence of a man except immediate family members until marriage young women getting university educations who won't have an opportunity to work young women playing no role in selecting their husbands young women who need their husband's or father's permission to work or continue with their education or to travel forced virginity tests etc Clearly Zoepf forged strong ties with many of the women she interviewed and she goes out of her way to make sure that readers understand that they are smart educated funny very kind and respectful to her and that many of them have no real complaints about their circumstances She does make reference to some small changes or to a number of individual or groups pushing for change but it's hard to see that what she depicts lives up to the book's subtitle The Secret Lives of Young Women Who Are Transforming the Arab World I didn't get a sense that there's a groundswell of change afoot or even that Zoepf had tapped into a broiling sense of injustice On the contrary with a few notable exceptions Zoepf seems to mostly have found a fairly set and rigid world And where there is activism the resistance to change is tremendous and often even violent It's not really possible for me to read this book and assess this world Zoepf presents without judgment but I do appreciate the look the book gives me into the various communities of young women Zoepf got to know I also appreciate that the only way she could realistically write this book was by forging positive relationships with the women she met and by approaching them with respect and without imposing her own views on them Zoepf doesn't apologize for anything she discusses but she is never harsh or explicitly critical; leaving much for the reader to imply and mull over Thanks to the publisher and Goodreads for an opportunity to read an advance copy of Excellent Daughters

  3. Caren Caren says:

    I think some of the situations for women in Islamic countries are known in the West but here the author a journalist allows the reader an inside view of the lives of young women she met in the Middle East over the span of a decade Because she herself was a young woman not very much older than the unmarried girls she came to know she was allowed access not available to many She lived in Syria before the civil war and in Lebanon a somewhat freer society yet one in which young women walk a fine line between appearing beautiful and provocative yet staying chaste She lived in Egypt during the Arab spring when there was so much hope for naught it would seem She lived in Saudi Arabia one of the countries with very strict control of women where she met leaders of the protest to allow women to drive and to work in retail stores in particular stores that sell underwear since women had been forced to buy underthings from men sales clerks which they found embarrassing The sexes are kept strictly apart there once adolescence is reached There was one exception to that one which I found odd from page 149Typically Saudi girls must confine themselves to the female sphere from earliest adolescence but Rasha's family had been slightly relaxed at first she saidUntil I was in ninth or tenth grade we used to put a carpet on the lawn and we would take hot milk and sit there with my boy cousins Rasha said But my mom and their mom got uncomfortable with it and so we stopped Now we sometimes talk on MSN or on the phone but they shouldn't ever see my face Before I was born my mom tells me that she and my uncles used to play Uno together sometimes But it's stricter now You couldn't do that todayMy sister and I sometimes ask my mom 'Why didn't you breast feed our boy cousins too?' Rasha saidRasha was referring to a practice called milk kinship that predates Islam and is still common in the Persian Gulf countries A woman never had to veil in front of a man she nursed as an infant and neither do her biological children The woman's biological children and the children she nursed are considered milk siblings and are prohibited from marryingIf my mom had breast fed my cousins we could sit with them and it would all be much easier Rasha said I pointed out that this would also rule out the possibility of marrying one of these cousins and Rasha sighed Rasha had missed the company of all her male cousins once the gender separation was enforced within the family But she also uickly realized that she'd developed strong feelings for a particular male cousinend uoteThe author includes an extensive discussion about veiling with explanations from the ur'an and from history as to how the practice evolved Young women are apparently taught that the sight of their hair or the sound of their voice can just drive men wild to the point that things could happen over which the man has no control Here is an account of one exchange she recordsfrom page 50One morning in class the first Arabic teacher I had in Syria a deeply religious young woman named Asma explained why she wore the hijabWhat if a man sees you girls walking in the street with your hair uncovered and becomes so aroused that he goes and abuses a child? Asma askedWouldn't you feel that it was your fault that this child was raped? I know that I could never live with myself if something like that happened That is why I wear the hijabend uoteThis strict separation means that restaurants need partitioned sections for families so that women can remove their veils enough to eatThe author profiled one of the freest places for women in the region Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates where young women aspire to become flight attendants at which they can make a nice income and see the world Dubai is another country that allows women freedom From page 178The openness can be particularly liberating for young women Saoub saidIn Jordan your managers control your time and always make sure you feel like you're their employee she said There's very very little room to move up In the Gulf everything is flexible You prove yourself and that's it People don't care if you're a woman People don't care if you're married yetIn Jordan if the office finds out that a woman has boyfriend it can be the end of her career Saoub said It's amazing to come here and find that people only care about how you do your job The fact that there is real competition combined with the freedom is very exciting It makes you want to work harder and to prove yourselfend uoteYes well those are some of the positive points but the author doesn't shy away from the darker stories Her account of an honor killing in Syria in 2007 is horrifying The 16 year old girl had been abducted and raped so she was put in a detention center for her own protection from her family Her cousin got her out by marrying her but a month after their marriage when her new husband had left for work her brother came in and stabbed her to death as she slept to avenge the family's honor She also includes a story of a girl who was detained by police during a demonstration in Egypt and was given a forced virginity test The description made me cringeI found this passage from page 112 very interestingThese discussions came perilously close to forbidden political discourse al Kadi explained Arab society's attachment to the idea of personal honor as something bound inextricably to the virtue of female relatives was becoming even deeper than it had been historically Partly this was a result of the wave of Islamization that had been sweeping the Arab world since the 1980s But an obsession with the control of female sexuality was also al Kadi and his fellow activists believed a symptom of political despair of a society on the edge of collapse After decades of dictatorship Syrian men who could control nothing else about their lives could at least control the women in their families al Kadi explainedOur parents tell us that there was an earlier day when honor meant that you were honorable in your work that you didn't take bribes for example al Kadi told me But now the political and economic situation is so bad that some degree of corruption is necessary to survive People will say that you're a good earner for your family; they won't blame you Historically speaking all our other ideologies have collapsed No one talks about loyalty to country about professional honor Now it's just the family the tribe the woman That's the only kind of honor we have leftend uoteThe subtitle of the book is The Secret Lives of Young Women Who are Transforming the Arab World Frankly I think that is a bit of an overstatement It felt to me as though change was very incremental and only in small pockets of places All I could really think at the end was 'I am so glad I live in the West'Thanks to Esil for putting this book on my radar

  4. Emma Deplores s2baby.co Censorship Emma Deplores s2baby.co Censorship says:

    This is an engaging readable account of a young journalist’s experiences in the Arab world and particularly the women she met It’s not as fascinating or information packed as Geraldine Brooks’s fantastic Nine Parts of Desire which you should absolutely read if you have any interest at all in women’s lives in the Middle East But it is fun and informative a great introduction to the topic And from her writing Zoepf seems adept at breaking through cultural barriers to connect with individuals with the result that the women she profiles sound like people you might actually meetEach topic has a different overarching topic and location with Saudi Arabia and Syria getting the most page time while Lebanon the UAE and Egypt get a chapter each Other reviewers have commented that the book overall seems “excellent daughters” than “bringing change” I’d say it’s about evenly split Saudi Arabia in particular feels static in Zoepf’s depiction and those chapters mostly cover life as it is focusing on topics like female friendship and matchmaking though with some hints of change Other chapters deal with social problems and change the Arab Spring particularly in Egypt; honor killings in Syria; young women migrating to the UAE in search of work a practice that would have been unthinkable not long ago But it’s true that the change that’s chronicled here is incrementalMeanwhile the book is very readable and if you’ve read many stories in the New York Times over the years you might just recognize some of it in one case I did which made me feel great about my memory since the book is drawn from the author’s research as a reporter But it works smoothly as a whole and though I recognized some of the material the book never felt cribbed together from articlesOverall while this isn’t the most in depth account you’ll read it is still a good book It’s a bit like having a conversation with a smart perceptive nonjudgmental and extremely well traveled friend I recommend it

  5. Eileen Eileen says:

    This was a fascinating glimpse deep into the Arab world Because the author is a woman she was allowed direct access to numerous Muslim women The genders are so fiercely segregated that a male journalist would have been denied such interaction How far removed are we in western society Of course one tends to be comfortable in the familiar but I was struck by the seeming complacency of so many Numerous women are content even grateful in their tightly controlled existence The selection of one’s spouse by the parents is generally a respected cherished practiceIn Saudi Arabia there is no driving no social interaction between the sexes – the list goes on One activist explained that ‘she now believed that the right to drive was almost beside the point while Saudi women were still denied far basic rights while they were not treated like citizens with rights to be protected The problem was so bad that many Saudi women didn’t believe they wanted or needed these rights They have low self esteem even if they are very well educated’ It’s easy for us raised with freedoms readily taken for granted to view with all this with disdain And yet the author carefully demonstrates a vital understanding that one is in some part a product of one’s environment She uotes an activist as follows ‘In our society men don’t see the woman as a human being But I don’t mean to say that men here are bad Men are simply from this society Men grow up and their families are like this their schools teach them this and adult society is like this When they get married actually they have many problems because they aren’t used to dealing with women at all’ However there are those courageous young women who are starting to resist to fight for access to the outside world and the author interviewed many of them It was exciting to see the emergence The book was so worthwhile and very readable I’m really glad I now have a slightly better grasp of the world behind the veil

  6. Jo Jo says:

    A long review but this book really makes you thinkKatherine Zoepf isn’t alone in that the events of 911 triggered a greater interest in the Arab world but she has made this interest the center point of her career as a journalist In Excellent Daughters she has written an eminently readable and truly fascinating book where the voices of real people in particular women come through on every page She gives women from Syria Egypt Dubai and Libya room to put their point of view to explain and protest and teach and to express opinions that for us in the West ring honest and true and at other times leave us scratching our heads I really appreciated little details like the fact that many Arab women adore Oprah that one of the girls wants her wedding at Disney World that girls at school were dressing up as men in thobes as a minor act of rebellion perhaps because it is these elements that link our cultures and make us feel that we aren’t so different What was touching too were the stories of Arab men who stood up and defended their wives and daughters like the supportive husband of Norah Al Sowayan one of the female drivers in Saudi who talks with outrage at her treatment The high ranking Muslim clerics who were prepared to uestion interpretations of the Koran that lead to female oppression illustrate that we cannot generalize about Arab men any than American or English The point is made that “Men are simply from this society” and therefore they cannot know anything different about the treatment of women The same rings true for so many women who have been sheltered over the years and only know one way in which to live and be treated Imagine if you didn’t have access to satellite TV books the internet How would you know that there was another way of living? Zoepf writes ‘Saudi women likewise tended to defend the Saudi way of doing things because it was the only thing they knew’There are however in the book women advocates who uestion this view of men and their supposed care for the women in their family; it is referred to as “contemptuous chivalry” at one point The point being that the care and concern is simply a way of denigrating and controlling the women even further Yet what surprised me was how many women defended this control how there were women protesting against the protesters for female freedoms Many women spoke of how they valued the guardian ship of the males in the family how it made them feel valued and safe Yet there is a disturbing side to this ‘guardianship’ and this is clearly shown with the story of Zahra in Damascus in 2007 This shocking honor killing brings into clear focus the problems with fundamentalism and certain interpretations of the Koran which I was unaware is not where the concept of honor killing comes from having its roots in the pre Islamic Bedouin culture of the region This chapter stretches our understanding and acceptance of such a culture or religion despite the fact that this particular case did cause a great deal of discussion in Syria Interestingly one explanation for this obsessive control is that because of the declining political and economic situation at the time in Syria which has clearly declined even over the last nine years ‘Syrian men who could control nothing else about their lives could at least control the women in their families’ This does not excuse this practice by any means but is interesting in that poverty and a lack of control over their lives have also been posited as reasons for the rise of fundamentalism Katherine Zoepf shows us that it is important not to tar all these countries with the same brush of not mixing the actions of extremists with every day Muslims Many of the women particularly in Syria and Saudi Arabia are highly educated have travelled and some hold positions of power but as in the West we continue to work for euality in women’s wages so there is always further to go To dismiss these women as simply brainwashed would be to patronize and infantilize them something that Zoepf never does and as access to the West grows ever easier it is evident that thinking for themselves and other women is becoming part of the Arab female experience Yet we cannot simply compare them with us or think that our way is better there may even be parents in the West who would love to have children ‘competitively describing what dutiful excellent daughters they each were’Katherine Zoepf manages to have a voice in the book but at the same time she doesn’t make this a book about her –this isn’t a memoir this is a book about the opinions and ideals and wishes of Arab women not a Western woman projecting but a talented journalist giving a voice to her interviewees and allowing them to speak for themselves

  7. Shomeret Shomeret says:

    Since my first two wins from Goodreads giveaways took place in New Zealand I uttered that famous Monty Python intro phrase and now for something completely different when I won Excellent Daughters by Katherine Zoepf from Goodreads New Zealand is a fascinating place and I am delighted to visit it through the pages of a book but Goodreads Giveaways was starting to become predictable Excellent Daughters was intermittently interesting but there were times when I thought Zoepf's comments weren't insightful I don't regret reading the book because I did learn some important things particularly about the status of women in Saudi ArabiaFor my complete review see

  8. Penny Schmuecker Penny Schmuecker says:

    Thank you to NetGalley and to the publisher for allowing me an advance copy in exchange for an honest reviewKatherine Zoepf has written a well researched and informative book about the lives of Muslim women The subtitle of the book “The Secret Lives of Young Women Who Are Transforming the Arab World” however is somewhat misleading Definitely the lives of these young women are cloaked in secrecy as is much of Islam to a Westerner and through the author’s interviews the reader is allowed access to the lives they lead literally behind closed doors However I think the phrase “transforming the Arab world” is a state that sadly has not yet been reached and the few changes that have been made cannot be said to have occurred in all countries of the region Zoepf a journalist conducted face to face interviews with the women and it is clear that she has both a love for the people and a respect for the culture and that she used both of these to approach delicate subject matter with the women who sometimes became defensive of the uestions she posed The first thing that is noticeable about this book is that not all Moslem countries are the same when it comes to how they regard women’s rights There are varying levels of freedom granted to women in each of the countries but it is clear that they are regarded as property and are not afforded the same rights as the men in any of the countries across the board In other words there are glimpses of hope and advancement in Saudi Arabia but the same cannot be said for the women in war torn Syria As Zoepf details the most recent changes in allowing freedom for women probably stemmed from the 2011 democratic uprisings known across the region as the Arab Spring For instance in Egypt uprisings resulted in the removal of Hosni Mubarak from power The protests involved both men and women working at the ground level with little regard to gender organizing and rallying temporarily for a common goal Yet once order was restored this street level success did little to improve the lives of Egypt’s women; policies toward women did not change with an installment of a new government and gender based discrimination and gender based violence prevail possibly at an even greater level than before Saudi Arabia has the strictest gender based laws in the world However most of the women who were interviewed de emphasized their rights in favor of recognizing that these restrictions are necessary to protect both their religion and Saudi values For instance “ikhtilat” public gender mixing prohibited women from employment in sales jobs for fear of having to speak to or interact with a male outside of her family After a previous attempt to try to grant employment opportunities as sales associates in lingerie shops failed activists tried a new approach Proponents of the change used the idea of shame to make their appeal that no Saudi woman should have to discuss something as personal as underwear with a male sales associate The campaign was a success and women are now allowed to be employed in lingerie shops and male sales associates are prohibited Success came as a result that it would be in violation of Saudi values if the old ways continued not because there was value in employing women or to grant them additional rights In this reader’s opinion one can see that there are small gains being made to better the lives of women but again they are not the sweeping changes that might be called a transformation If this book does one thing it makes the reader notice that there is much work to be done in countries where women’s rights have remained virtually unchanged for centuries I will conclude by saying that I enjoyed this book Ms Zoepf is thoroughly committed to giving the reader an unbiased honest glimpse into the lives of the women of this region and it was a very informative read

  9. Carol Douglas Carol Douglas says:

    Katherine Zoepf is a journalist who has spent years in Arab countries In this book she interviews young Muslim women in Saudi Arabia Lebanon and Syria The young Saudi women are upper class and several either are in college or are going to college One is about to be married They have strong female friendships but they know that when they are married their husbands can make them end those friendships That has happened to some of their friends Although the girls want education and professional jobs they say that they have no problem with the idea of their parents choosing their husbands They hope for husbands who will allow them to continue their education They don't know men outside their immediate families and accept their situation They profess to be religious and to have no problems with the restrictions their government puts on women in the name of religion They say there are a few lesbians in King Saud University and said they didn't want to go there for that reason The girls Zoepf met in met in Beirut are different They are influenced by French traditions and care very much about their appearance Even if they have little money they will save up to have just one nice outfit Some of them go to bars and flirt but they try to keep men from pressing them to go to far They'll try to avoid losing their hymens If they do lose their hymens many young women will have surgery to restore them Some say they want to marry men who won't care if they aren't virgins but those who are that idealistic are often bitterly disappointed The Syrian women live with restrictions and those have become even worse since the war Zoepf said She had lived in Syria before the war and enjoyed it She writes about a famous honorkilling of a girl who had been raped Without any women's shelters Syrian authorities would put girls who had been raped in jail for their own protection Few girls believe that their families would kill them says a woman who works with the girls but she has to tell them they are probably wrong Koepf felt a connection with sheltered Arab girls because her mother is a Jehovah's Witness and she had been brought up as a religious fundamentalist herself She is never patronizing She is a valuable witness to these girls' lives She notes that many of the girls resent westerners' focus on the veiling of and restrictions on Muslim women and wish that writers would emphasize their intelligence and desire for education Zoepf does that but she shows that their lives really are circumscribed

  10. Stephanie Jane (Literary Flits) Stephanie Jane (Literary Flits) says:

    I received a copy of Excellent Daughters by Katherine Zoepf from its publishers Penguin Press via NetGalley in exchange for my honest reviewWomen in Middle Eastern countries aren't often given much of a voice in the European press and media so when I saw this book by journalist Katherine Zoepf I was keen to read it Zoepf spent over a decade meeting and talking to mostly young women across the Middle East discussing their lives education prospects marriage plans religion social interactions and hopes for their futures Her writing was first published as articles in the New Yorker which results in some repetition across this relatively short book although I believe the articles have been re edited with new material addedExcellent Daughters is written for a American audience so understandably has a strong Western filter However I liked that many of the conversations are reported word for word and while Zoepf makes observations such as Saudi girls appearing younger in their behaviour than their American counterparts she doesn't give this negative or positive connotations Zoepf discusses how women are opening Islamic schools for girls allowing them to read interpret and argue Koranic laws from a female perspective Others are taking advantage of new employment opportunities and the resultant financial freedom Most interesting for me though was her conversations with women who although they would like to change some aspects of their lives don't want our Western ideas of commercialisation and individuality over community This survey attempts to portray many changes across a half dozen different countries each of which has its own ideas of proper behaviour for its women The country differences in themselves are fascinating showing the popular Western media's idea of 'how Muslim women live' to be a wild misconception However I would have preferred a longer deeper book or a narrower subject focus because I often felt that Zoepf was just skimming the surface and there is much to say See of my book reviews on my blog Stephanie Jane

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