Title: The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism
Author: Deborah Baker
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication Date: May 10, 2011
Hardcover: 224 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Islam
What drives a young woman raised in a postwar New York City suburb to convert to Islam, abandon her country and Jewish faith, and embrace a life of exile in Pakistan? The Convert tells the story of how Margaret Marcus of Larchmont became Maryam Jameelah of Lahore, one of the most trenchant and celebrated voices of Islam’s argument with the West.
A cache of Maryam’s letters to her parents in the archives of the New York Public Library sends acclaimed biographer Deborah Baker (In Extremis: The Life of Laura Riding) on her own odyssey into the labyrinthine heart of twentieth-century century Islam. Casting a shadow over these letters is the mysterious figure of Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi, both Maryam’s adoptive father and the man who laid the intellectual foundations for militant Islam.
As she assembles the pieces of a singularly perplexing life, Baker finds herself captive to questions raised by Maryam’s journey. Is her story just another bleak chapter in a so-called clash of civilizations? Or does it signify something else entirely? And is the life depicted in Maryam’s letters home and in her books an honest reflection of the one she lived?
The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism by Deborah Baker is a thought provoking and gripping novel about a young woman who is drawn from her Jewish faith and into Islam. Maryam, as readers will soon become aware, abandoned her faith in the 1950s, yet the story is highly relevant today at a time when the United States is in post-9/11 turmoil over religious and cultural differences. Baker has some important points to make in this story of ideology, rejection and transformation as readers will discover the importance of respecting historical differences as a deterrent to conflict and violence. It is here where I think Baker’s truly masterful writing makes its largest impact. Of additional import is her examination of the factors that lead Maryam into a radical perversion of her newly professed Islamic faith. The Convert is an excellent non-fiction work that is timely in its appearance, historical in its time period, and captivating as it seeks a deeper understanding of religious faith and ideology. The Convert by Deborah Baker would make in interesting choice for book discussion groups.
Deborah Baker is the author of In Extremis: The Life of Laura Riding, a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, as well as A Blue Hand: The Beats in India. She divides her time between Calcutta, Goa, and Brooklyn.
I received a complimentary copy of The Convert by Deborah Baker from Graywolf Press. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned novel.