This book is pretty much what you’d expect from the title: the story of a Western Muslim woman doctor who goes to Saudi Arabia to work. Qanta Ahmed’s background gave her a unique perspective on Saudi life. British-born, from a Pakistani Muslim family, and trained in the U.S., Qanta arrived in Saudi as a devout but not particularly conservative Muslim, used to Western ways and to being treated as an equal by men in her profession. Plunged into the world of mandatory veiling and strictly defined gender roles, she found herself in the unusual position of working as a highly qualified doctor in a male-dominated profession, yet not being allowed to drive a car or go out in the street unchaperoned.
During her time in Saudi, Qanta’s Muslim faith deepens, especially when she makes the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), which is a deeply spiritual experience for her. But at the same time she is intensely uncomfortable with the radical interpretations of Islam that strip her and other women in Saudi Arabia of basic human rights. This double perspective — as a faithful Muslim but also as an independent Western woman — gives this memoir its power, even when the writing style is often annoying and suggests a desperate need for better editing. If you’re interested in the role of women in the Muslim world, you will want to read this book, although you may want to skim some of the descriptive passages so Ahmed’s purple prose doesn’t overwhelm you.