Zainab Salbi --- founder and president of Women for Women
International, a non-profit organization created in 1993 to
provide female survivors of war and genocide with the tools and
resources necessary to move forward with their lives --- has
written an engrossing memoir about growing up in Baghdad beneath
Saddam Hussein's watchful eye. With her mother's journals as her
guide and the help of Los Angeles Times reporter Laurie
Becklund, Salbi painstakingly chronicles the humiliating
subjugation that she and her family endured (both in Iraq and later
in America) and provides a unique inside perspective into a
conflict that is sadly still going on to this day.
From the time she was a child, Salbi and her family lived in
constant fear of Saddam Hussein. In 1969, when she was 11 years
old, her father was appointed to be his personal pilot. Because of
this prestigious promotion, Saddam's presence in their home became
increasingly commonplace, so much so that she and her family were
instructed to call him "Amo," the Iraqi word for "Uncle." They were
invited to parties at Saddam's palace and, in some of his more
"merciful moments," were given lavish gifts, including a house on
the palace grounds where they could spend their weekends. "But
[Salbi] came to understand that these moments would be followed by
months of excruciating, often mystifying punishment." Their
movements were monitored. Their freedom to travel and pray was
severely limited. Any difference in opinion from what Saddam
believed was strictly forbidden. Although they looked to outsiders
as though they were living in the lap of luxury, she and her family
were trapped in an oppressive, highly controlled lifestyle with no
likely means of escape.
It took years for her and her family to get out from under Saddam's
influence, and even then, they could never completely break away.
Salbi's mother and father became estranged after years of enduring
Saddam's torture, and eventually divorced. Salbi suffered through a
disastrous engagement, an abusive arranged marriage to an Iraqi man
thirteen years her senior in America, and years of emotional damage
before she finally met a man whom she could trust enough to begin a
life with. A few of Salbi's aunts (like many Iraqi women) had been
harassed or raped by Saddam, Uday, or any number of the Mukhabarat,
and would never fully come to terms with the terror and humiliation
they felt at the hands of Saddam and his men.
So why didn't they leave? Why didn't they get out in the beginning
before things got too harried? Even before the Gulf War began,
couldn't they see that Saddam would never stop until it was too
late? Hadn't they learned from history's disastrous examples, such
as what happened during the regimes of Stalin or Hitler? "That
question haunts whole generations of people from around the world
whose parents tolerated the rise of dictatorship."
Zainab Salbi and her family's horrifying experiences when living in
Iraq under Saddam's brutal reign are shocking but not uncommon.
Countless numbers of frightened people are living out similar
nightmares in Iraq, the Sudan, and war-torn countries the world
over. In 1993, Salbi formed Women for Women International in
order to fight against these atrocities and to help women like
herself heal from the life-altering wounds that were inflicted upon
them. Later, she would pen BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, this evocative and
haunting memoir that proves that one courageous woman can rise
above her own painful past in order to make a difference in the
lives of others.
In the Afterword, Salbi writes, "…In the end there was a
point at which I felt that I had to take ownership of my voice, my
truth, and my story. I felt I had lived through other women's
stories and through their courage in breaking their truths.
Perhaps, it was my turn to take that jump and to speak up. So, here
I am, taking ownership of my story and telling it."
Reviewed by Alexis Burling on December 22, 2010