A Blog of Children's Literature

The Shadows of Ghadames March 7, 2011

The Shadows of GhadamesThe Shadows of Ghadames by Joëlle Stolz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Shadows of Ghadames by Joelle Stolz (2004)

Historical Fiction, 118 pages

Ghadames, a city in Libya near Algeria and Tunisia, is changing along with its customs and gender roles. Caught between the past and the future at the end of the nineteenth century, Malika, a girl on the brink of adulthood, is bothered by some of the cultural restrictions of women and yet scared of her unknown future and womanhood. Built on tradition and religious beliefs, Ghadames holds two unique cities—the streets below belong to the men, who roam freely doing their business and the city atop the roofs belongs to the women to do their work, buy from the traveling market, and communicate with other women to build solidarity. It is here that women free of men’s eyes can remove their veils and display the beautiful tattoo artwork on their bodies, symbolizing fertility, safety from evildoers, and pain on their rivals. Malika dreams of learning to read and write but knows her mother does not support this idea outside of custom. However, Malika’s father and his second wife, Bilkisu, both know Malika shows promise and desires to learn more of the world than rooftops. These looming restrictions of womanhood all start to change when Bilkisu rescues an unconscious man in the streets, pursued by the Aïssaouïa men of the city, forcing Malika’s mother to reconsider her social constructions. As a French journalist reporting on the past, Stolz fascinatingly weaves culture, tradition, and history along with beautiful language of imagery and detail in Malika’s observations. Malika’s position in life is metaphorically described like a dirt plot, currently fallow, but evolving into an extensive garden full of education and womanly knowledge. Young adult readers interested in Muslim culture, gender roles, and the evolution of society will enjoy this short but powerful tale. In this unique coming-of-age story, Malika questions the invisibility of women, adulthood, and what it means to love. Can any person who loves, man or woman, actually be free?


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