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Home Bookshop Other book reviews The Harem Within: Tales of a Moroccan Girlhood.

The Harem Within: Tales of a Moroccan Girlhood.

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This book tells the story of a young girl growing up in a Fez harem in the 1940’s.  The womens’ confined way of life in a city harem is contrasted with the much freer way of life of women in the country, like the author’s grandmother, who could climb trees and ride horses.

Her own mother, brought up in the country, could never get used to the lack of freedom imposed upon her after her marriage.  Her husband’s family were one of the last to maintain a traditional harem, where the two sons raised their families in the home of the grandparents, whilst also giving shelter to other family members, such as a divorced aunt, and Mina, a Sudanese ex-slave, who lived with them almost like a religious hermit.
The author’s father was sympathetic to his wife’s dislike of the harem, whilst also wishing to keep the extended family together.  To compensate for the lack of freedom, the women built an elaborate fantasy life for themselves, telling and listening to tales, performing plays and entertainments, based on traditional and religious stories and increasingly on snippets of western cinema culture, which was penetrating increasingly with the French occupying army.

The book is about the hudud or sacred frontier separating men from women.  In the case of the grandmother, this was internalised, whereas for the town dwellers it was a physical presence, a gate which prevented them from going out into the street.  It also conveys the strong, intimate relationships between the women confined together and their varied aspirations.


The Harem Within: Tales of a Moroccan Girlhood.

by Fatima Mernissi.




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