Azadeh Moaveni has written a powerful, indispensable book on a challenging subject: the inner lives and motivations of women who joined or supported the Islamic State militant group. It is a great read, digestible and almost novelistic, but it is much more than that. Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS tackles many taboos that have hampered cleareyed discussion of Islamist extremism in general and ISIS in particular. The book provides an illuminating, much-needed corrective to stock narratives, not only about the group that deliberately and deftly terrified officials and publics across the world, but also about the larger war on terror and the often ineffective, even counterproductive policies of Western and Middle Eastern governments ... Finally, for all its compelling material, one of the book’s lasting accomplishments is its form. It is a master class in illustrating the big picture through small stories. And it uses women’s experiences — still so often framed as a subplot — to reach the heart of ISIS. Centering a narrative on women leads, here, to a superior analysis of the overall subject, and this is a lesson with applications far beyond ISIS.
Azadeh Moaveni offers what is sure to become a modern classic, answering the question of how Muslim women become, as the Western media puts it, 'radicalized.' In Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of Isis Moaveni persuasively argues that the West’s broad narratives of radicalization fail to account for the lived experiences of Muslim women ... The stories are utterly captivating ... Moaveni not only provides granular views of particular women as they navigate this sociopolitical minefield but also situates these stories in a broader cultural context, rendering them legible in compelling ways. She raises as many questions as she answers, wondering, for example, what will fill the void left by ISIS and how the home cultures of these vulnerable women could have interceded in their responses to online rhetoric. I couldn’t put the book down.
With a title like Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of Isis, readers might expect another chronicle of the horrifying, titillating tales that have become such well-trodden ground in portrayals of the jihadi group. Fortunately, Azadeh Moaveni has written nothing of the kind ... a fascinating dive into the lives of women who aided or flocked to Isis ... Following 13 women and a wide cast of supporting characters, Moaveni portrays her subjects with nuance, and even a dose of compassion — an approach that yields a far better understanding of Isis than more sensationalist accounts ... Moaveni’s focus on women becomes a useful frame for explaining, in a broader way, the global appeal of violent jihadism ... Moaveni provides fascinating details of life in the would-be caliphate ... The proliferation of characters can be confusing, and the book’s structure forces readers to jump around in time. Still, its strength lies in how these stories build into Moaveni’s argument. A devastating reckoning with the post-9/11 world order ... account of the three girls from east London who ran away to join Isis is one of the most incisive I have read: an indictment of UK intelligence and counter-terrorism...
... superb ... Moaveni offers detailed depictions of the lives of Nour, Dua, Kadiza and her other subjects, and in doing so invalidates the stereotype of the Isis bride as a seductive, sinister figure bent on mass murder ... Dalliances with terror, like everything else, have different consequences for different women; the mastery of Guest House for Young Widows is to show us just how distinct and devastating each can be.
Journalist Azadeh Moaveni uses years of powerful, intimate reporting, including interviews with women who joined the Islamic State, their families and their communities, to show how smart young girls, girls who watched The Princess Diaries and went to Zumba classes, became radicalized. She brings the reader inside kitchen table talks between families and to places inside the caliphate ... All of the detail and history allows Moaveni to describe these girls in a way that’s both relatable and admirably anchored in context. Still, because the book is structured chronologically and metes out just 20 pages on one girl’s story before going on to the next, moving from Tunisia to Germany, to England to Syria, it was hard to hold onto the thread of each account until it came around again many pages later ... I found myself wishing Moaveni had focused more deeply on fewer characters[.]
Peeling back layers of gender, Islamophobia, faith, loyalty, and socialization, Moaveni situates the women’s stories within the larger historical and sociopolitical context of the time. Following 13 women in total, Guest House for Young Widows is an ambitious attempt to understand the attraction of ISIS for many disaffected youth who were ready to believe.
Working with 20-odd women involved in IS and their families, the author shows them to be a diverse group with various motivations ... Writing sympathetically but not uncritically, Moaveni helps readers understand why these women join IS.
[A] searing investigation ... In concise, visceral vignettes, Moaveni immerses her readers in a milieu saturated with the romantic appeal of violence. The result is a journalistic tour de force that lays bare the inner lives, motivations, and aspirations of her subjects.