Writing the life

Trauma, fame, and the reader who cannot be trusted

Literary memoirs can offer lasting sustenance to the struggling writer. Leila Ahmed’s A Border Passage and Fatima Mernissi’s Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood, my first introductions to the personal narrative form, helped me stave off an early mid-life crisis at thirty, when I felt my own work had lost its purpose. After reading about the early lives of the important feminist scholars from Cairo and Fez, I moved on to memoirs by Azar Nafisi, Sara Suleri Goodyear, and Sudha Koul, from Tehran, Lahore, and Srinagar, respectively. Their books filled in the knowledge gap my formal Canadian education had left me with: the struggles and achievements of twentieth-century women against backdrops of anti-colonial struggle, war, occupation, revolution, migration, and devastating loss. These writers helped connect me to history for the first time. Even when reflecting on pain and injustice, they could...