Review by: Gloria Fortún

May 2003

The Diaries of Emily Saidouili
By Bettye Hammer Givens
ISBN 0-9708194-0-4

Emily is a college drop-out  from Texas whose miserable life changes when she comes across Ben Saidouili, a Moroccan whom she falls desperately in love with. She marries him and moves to his country. Consequently, she has to adapt to a new place, a new culture and a new way of life. The Diaries of Emily Saidouili is an interesting book with some good points which should be read to amuse oneself, but not to find information about Muslim culture and gender roles in the Arab society because it doesn’t give you that kind of knowledge.

The book is organized chronologically, starting with Emily in Dallas, Texas, as a university drop-out who gives up her baby for adoption because the father doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. She later meets Ben Saidouili, to whom she becomes engaged, even if she doesn’t have a clue as to who he is or where he comes from. They immediately get married and he tells her they’re going to live in Morocco. Emily’s reaction can be summed up in this quote: “Ben says we will live in Morocco. Or maybe it’s Monaco. Are they the same place? […] I have decided I can wait until I get there to find out. It makes not a whit of difference to me where it is. I’m going there with Ben” (6). So they move to Morocco and Emily, although amazed sometimes, accepts the ways of her new country without even wondering, for example, why women are covered from head to toes. One day, she realizes she is in a Muslim country and her husband is also Muslim.

The book is written in diary format so we know in first person what is happening to Emily, and also her thoughts and feelings. That is an advantage, but on the other hand, we only perceive things from her point of view, so if she doesn’t understand a situation, a Moroccan custom or something said in Arab or French, we don’t either.

Two main subjects are covered: the adaptation of Emily to a new very different country and the development of her marriage.  On the subject of the first issue, Emily does adapt perfectly in a foreign land, and she even starts learning French and reading the Koran. As for marriage, as she says, it “is a foreign country” that she never tries to decipher (197). She prefers to keep her mouth shut all the time and not to bother Ben. She would rather read the Koran than read her husband’s mind or tell him her own perspectives of life and how women should be treated. Her marriage is full of silences. I am sure she would learn to understand Arab faster than learning to understand her husband or to be understood by him.

Bettye H. Givens wrote The Diaries of Emily Saidouili because she felt as an American she knew nothing about the Moroccans and it was a way of understanding them better. Did she achieve her goal? Well, Emily’s husband is certainly privileged; very rich (he builds the best house in Morocco for Emily) and educated. He has even gone to college in the U.S.. I do not think he represents the Moroccan majority of men who are poor and even risk their lives crossing the Straight of Gibraltar, which separates Morocco from Spain, in feeble rafts, many of them dying in the attempt. So Emily does not seem to understand the Moroccan reality at the end of the book. On the other hand, her husband does follow the Arab tradition of female repression which is very well reflected on the book. It is Emily, though, who adapts to that instead of standing up for her rights and making her husband change his mind.

Bettye Hammer Givens is a writer and also a painter. She has won several awards such as the Italian Priza Poesy and a fellowship from the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation. She worked in Morocco with Paul Bowles in the early 80’s. She currently lives in Texas with her husband.

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