“Excellent Daughters is one of those rare books reported from a region best known as a crisis zone that are not themselves crisis journalism. What Zoepf chronicles is something subtler: the internal pressures and counterpressures influencing the Arab world toward a form of social change that is by no means inevitable.
[Excellent Daughters]...is like a 'Lonely Planet' guide to the dark underbelly of the purity culture of Muslim societies ... The trouble is that, for all of her meticulous reporting and access to the women she writes about, Ms. Zoepf shies away from drawing certain uncomfortable conclusions.
As an exercise in optimism — or perhaps wishful thinking — Excellent Daughters is the latest offering in a wider trend of works in which cultural sensitivity slides into collusion with cultural pitfalls. Female readers who can navigate these ideological landmines will enjoy a book whose vivid descriptions make it a safe alternative to an actual trip to the Middle East.