In the immortal words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:
When we remember that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.
With this in mind, I wanted to share the authors who’s books brought to me another story, another version of a place that I didn’t know about.
- Humaira Awais Shahid, author of Devotion and Defiance: My Fight for Justice for Women. Shahid painted an entirely different picture of Pakistan than I had come to expect from American media. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that Shahid does mention the places that seem to resemble the way her country is represented to me by most media, but she doesn’t live there herself. There is more to Pakistan than the rural areas governed by people who are not actually part of the government and who sanction honor killings and other horrific tribal laws. Shahid lives in the city (Lahore at first and then Isalamabad later, which sounds a lot more like any other city than I had previously anticipated. Yes, I recognize my ignorance now, but I appreciate Shahid for pointing it out. She’s well educated, spent time as a college professor and had absolutely no trouble accessing her education (of course, she did also spend most of her youth not in Pakistan). She’s also been an advocate for women’s rights in Pakistan, fighting against the very concepts and practices that are the only things we know about it here, such as acid attacks on women. Her story may or may not be typically of Pakistan, but it’s another story, one that we don’t here very often and that enriched my understanding of women in her country. The most recent article I found on her work is here.
- Selisse Berry, editor of Out & Equal at Work: From Closet to Corner Office. I had no idea the variety of experiences that could happen when coming out of the variety of closets that there are. I didn’t even know there were that many kinds of closets, to be honest, before reading this. This is a great look at many stories and how people are effected by the secrets they choose to divulge.
- Leymah Gbowee, author of Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War. I had known that bad stuff happened in Africa all the time, but in my little American bubble, I had never heard of the people that lived there who were trying to do something about it. I especially hadn’t heard of those who had been successful. I know, I was an awful shut-in with my head in the sand, but these books are helping me see the bigger world and the many stories.
- Lisa Lees, author of Fragments of Gender. This was the first book I read that had a first person account of transgender or non-binary gender experiences. When I had first read it, I was confused by a lot of the ideology behind it all. Lees relates her story as a life that is kind of outside of gender. She relates her complicated feelings about gender and where she falls into it. I had never questioned my gender, so I had no idea how complicated it was before. I had heard of people who were “in the wrong body” and already decided what they “wanted” to be, but this was the first time that it started to become clear that this was just a murky, complicated mess for people who don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. I’d had no idea that there was a process to accepting who they are, as opposed to just deciding they want to be someone else.
- Isobel Coleman, author of Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East. This one also paints a different picture than what I expect of more than just Pakistan, but even the portion on Pakistan is different from Shahid’s story. It’s all about women who are making changes for the better and the ways that they did it in five countries. Some might seem like what we might expect, but some were quite ingenious. The most fascinating aspect of this book, as it relates to more showing more than a single story of the Middle East, is the histories of the countries it covers. As we should but often neglect to expect, their histories are much richer and consist of many more advances and drawbacks than we know of. It may seem hopeless from here, and we may feel like writing them all off because they don’t want to help themselves, but they are helping themselves. And each other.
What have you read that was a different story than one you expected?