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Publisher's Summary

The decisions that change your life are often the most impulsive ones. Unexpectedly denied a visa to remain in the United States, Qanta Ahmed, a young British Muslim doctor, becomes an outcast in motion. On a whim, she accepts an exciting position in Saudi Arabia. This is not just a new job; this is a chance at adventure in an exotic land she thinks she understands, a place she hopes she will belong. What she discovers is vastly different.

The Kingdom is a world apart, a land of unparalleled contrast. She finds rejection and scorn in the places she believed would most embrace her, but also humor, honesty, loyalty, and love. And for Qanta, more than anything, it is a land of opportunity. It is a place where she discovers what it takes for one woman to recreate herself in the land of invisible women.

©2008 Qanta Ahmed (P)2012 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

What listeners say about In the Land of Invisible Women

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Could have been so much more

The writing ranges from indifferent to awkward, but that is not the only reason I rate this books as merely "ok". It had the potential to be so much more than it is.

Dr. Qanta A. Ahmed is capable of close observation--no critical care physician can lack this ability--and some of her descriptions are very closely observed, indeed. It is a shame that these are mostly limited to the physical appearance of the people she meets and of their clothing, homes and cars.

Yet we cannot call Ahmed shallow because the religious experience she underwent in the Kingdom was clearly deeply felt. I am disappointed that she did not spend more time exploring it and less time looking for well-worn metaphors to describe it.

The main problem with In the Land of Invisible Women, in my opinion, is that it never quite seems to decide what kind of book it is. Is it the description of the author's religious itinerary? Then why leave that almost exclusively to the section on her Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca)? Is it the story of a Western-trained double-boarded physician who happens to be a woman practicing in the very different and restrictive conditions experienced by female physicians in the Kingdom? Then tell us more about that.

Is this a book about Saudi culture? Then spend less time on describing cars, jewelry and clothing and more time on behavior, attitudes, laws and social expectations. Is it a book about the history of Wahabi extremism in Saudia? Then write it as a history and don't try to squeeze it in as background in artificial-sounding conversations.

The main problem I found with this book is its lack of focus. There is so much potential here for a riveting memoir or a fascinating analysis. Ahmed sold herself short by taking the easy way out.

This book will be particularly interesting to people with little or no knowledge of Islam, people who don't know many Muslims. Think of it as a long, chatty letter from the friend of a friend and you won't be as disappointed as I was.

Not a bad book, just not as good as it might have been.

13 people found this helpful

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Women under war

As our newspapers and news inform us there is a war on women in America. While they gloss over the fact the countries such a Saudi Arabia & Pakistan kill their women for being whores.

Enjoyed the book, enjoyed the voice of the narrarator. The thing of it is....

Where are all of the books written by women or for women who were not so lucky?

We can all grab bios on Tina Fey or Suzanne Sommers.

What about Wafta Sultan, Souad and Rana Husseini? What about some audiobooks from women in Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Pakistan?

Just Saying.

11 people found this helpful

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Important work, somewhat too ambitious

Where does In the Land of Invisible Women rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I enjoyed this book for the most part. Nicola Barber's performance was spectacular, and Qanta Ahmed's observational skills - crucial for a physician - are on full display. I could feel the oppressive heat, sense the culture shock, and awed by her description of her Haj experience. It is, however, somewhat lost in brand-name-dropping (particularly in the first half). Once you get past that, it is a very important enlightening book, giving faces and names to "invisible" women in an uncomfortable reality of Saudi Arabia.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The description of the Haj. I was blown away by such a mass amount of people, beautiful buildings, stones, waters, prayers... it was incredibly moving.

Any additional comments?

I did enjoy this book. The first half has a lot of brand name dropping - Mercedes, Rolex, etc. - and it gets a little bit grating. However, that aside, I will never forget this book, and will likely read it again.
Qanta is a moderate Muslim who is thrown into a kingdom where women are veiled, and the veiling of Muslims is definitely described as a prison. Through two years, she learns what women - and by extension men - endure in the Saudi kingdom. She is blunt, to the point, observant, giving a realism seldom viewed. Unlike Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Infidel, Nomad), Qanta's Muslim faith remains intact, even though extremism as witnessed in Saudi Arabia does not persuade her to think as many do there, or to become resigned to her fate.

Worth buying on sale, or even for its own cash value; I wouldn't spend a credit on it, but that's just me.

5 people found this helpful

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Could not finish... Boring.

She goes to the Saudi Kingdom to work as a doctor. You'd think this would turn into a fascinating look into a closed society but not so. She seems to love all the quirks of "covering" and "being invisible" and gender segregation, discovers her 'Muslim-ness', goes on a Hajj and is orgasmic about being called by Allah. (Allah calls those to Hajj so if you want to go, ipso facto you've been called.)

Think 'Lifetime for Women', Saudi style

Boring ain't in it. I would have happily returned this to audible but as of now you can only return 2 books per 6 months regardless of how many books you buy.

2 people found this helpful

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MORE THAN I EXPECTED

Not know anything about this book, I was pleasantly surprised. I just had to know what this was about. I leant a lot about the women of The Kingdom and the menfolk.
I found the discussion with the writer, at the conclusion, to be a surprise and a well received time of listening. Will definitely look for more of Qanta A. Ahmed's book. She writes excelently.

2 people found this helpful

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Awesome

Awesome
Eye opening
Surprising
Great narration
Informative
Important to know and be aware of how things are there

1 person found this helpful

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Very interesting, though biased...

Would you try another book from Qanta A. Ahmed and/or Nicola Barber?

I don't think that, based on this book, I would read another by the same author.

What was most disappointing about Qanta A. Ahmed’s story?

I was a little bit alarmed by the degree of bias about the hijab. I mean, she wrote about it erasing women, stealing their personhood and their rights. I certainly understand that she was writing from her own experience as a Western woman, but it seemed to project a western interpretation of a foreign practice. The whole book did that, really. I think that was both honest and unfair. It made the book interesting, but also disappointing. I mean, one doesn't need to go to the Saudi Kingdom to get a Westerner's take on women's rights in the Middle East.

Which scene was your favorite?

I loved the chapters about the haj.

Did In the Land of Invisible Women inspire you to do anything?

It inspired me to find books written by women who are actually from the Saudi Kingdom.

Any additional comments?

I appreciated the kind of investigatory nature of the book and the "revelation" of the women's world in the Saudi Kingdom.

1 person found this helpful

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A Western Snapshot of Saudi Arabia

I was fascinated by the stories of the privileged class of women seeking professions in medicine.
25 years ago I traveled to the Dominican Republic from Michigan. Although I refreshed my Spanish language skills by retaking an intermediate Spanish class, once I arrived at an orphanage in a small village, I might as well have landed on Mars by my ability to communicate. So listening to the account very much reminded me of being the foreigner.
If you have lived where religious constraints are the norm you might resent the author’s observations as snobbish and insensitive. Since I am an American who long since abandoned her Catholic dogmatic adherence, I enjoyed her perspective.

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Don't listen to the negative reviews!

I read the negative reviews and wasn't sure about getting this book. So glad I didn't listen to them! This book is a real treasure and definitely worth the credit. I loved the narrator and the author both. The author takes you by the hand and leads you through her experience so you feel like you're learning right along with her! I would love to meet this author in person, she's really impressive and wonderful!

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This is a fantastic read!

This book covers pretty much everything I ever wanted to know about life in Saudi Arabia. And the fact that it was told by an American muslim made all the difference because although it was critical of some things it also gave credit where credit was due - to a society cloaked (no pun intended) to outsiders.
I learned a lot about the differences between Islam and Wahabism. I cannot say enough about how great this book was! And the question and answer at the end was very eye opening. Thank you, thank you for this terrific read!

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  • Eliza Conquest
  • 01-21-15

Excellent account of life in Riyadh

If you could sum up In the Land of Invisible Women in three words, what would they be?

Interesting; accurate; observant

Who was your favorite character and why?

This is a memoir, so no favourite character.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

Events when she went on the Hajj pilgrimage. However, scenes that I found most interesting were the Saudi reactions to 9/11.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Sometimes amusing, sometimes made me angry.

The narrator mispronounced the word "thobe" incorrectly throughout the book by sounding the "e" at the end. The "e" is silent, as in "robe".

Any additional comments?

I have lived in Saudi Arabia for 30 years so was very interested in reading this memoir. Although the author occasionally got carried away with her descriptions, overall I think she conjured up the atmosphere of Saudi Arabia extremely well. Her understanding of Saudis, both men & women, was very sympathetic. From everything that we have learnt about them in our years here, she came up with very similar conclusions in a very short space of time. She was observant of everything going on around her and swung from being impressed to dismayed at various things that happened - for instance, extreme prejudice coming from men & women who until that point had seemed highly educated and intellectual; parents wishing to install hatred & prejudice in their children for Jews; on the other hand, the great warmth and hospitality that Saudis extended to her. The reaction of Saudis to the events of 9/11 were shocking, and then a few years later they too were on the receiving end of Al Qaeda bombing. Her understanding of the Wahabi version of Islam in Saudi Arabia was also very accurate and she became quite disillusioned seeing how this religion is frequently distorted here. I would recommend this audiobook - or book - to anyone who is interested in learning about Saudi Arabia, especially if they are considering coming to work here in the medical field.At the end of the audio book, there is an interesting interview with the author about her subsequent experiences in Saudi Arabia and observations about the progress of women in the Kingdom.

The narrator mispronounced the word "thobe" incorrectly throughout the book by sounding the "e" at the end. The "e" is silent, as in "robe".

2 people found this helpful

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  • S
  • 12-14-14

Interesting but a bit too long

If you could sum up In the Land of Invisible Women in three words, what would they be?

Interesting, shocking, long

What did you like best about this story?

I've read numerous books about women living in Saudi but the majority had been about women who had been born in the country, for whom the customs were something they had grown up with. I chose this book because it wanted to see if the story would be different coming from a woman who had been born outside of the kingdom, one who was educated and working in what some may have considered a male job.

Have you listened to any of Nicola Barber’s other performances? How does this one compare?

This is the first performance I've heard, but its been very enjoyable.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

At the start I enjoyed listening to this book and would have happily considered listening to it in one sitting. However, as the book progressed I found some parts continued for much longer than what I would have liked and had it been a print book I would have probably skipped a few pages to get back into the more gripping stuff.

Any additional comments?

It was interesting to hear the story of a woman who despite being a muslim, she had never really practiced her religion and had lived in the relative freedom of the USA for many years having to deal with the cultural differences she came across when working in Saudi. Overall it was a very interesting book. My only criticism is there were sections of the book which I felt went on a bit too long and at times I lost track of what was going on. Had it been a print book I would have probably skipped a few pages. At the same time I felt the conclusion was quite quick compared to the rest of the book. Maybe this was because I dipped in and out of the book several times rather than listened to it in long sessions.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Gill
  • 10-07-20

Truthful

These stories are not happening only in Saudi Arabia but in any radical community anywhere in the world. Radical Islam is sometimes called wahabbism or salafism and infiltrates mosques all around the world because these mosques highly rely on major financial donations from Saudi Arabia but often are even builded and financed by Saudi Arabia. I've seen recent influences of such financing destroying life of Muslim western women who are often trapped in unhappy marriage and despite of the many teachings of the Prophet saws about woman's rights and husband's duties they are mostly denied divorce and asked to be patient with their often phisically and emotionally abusive husbands because people who are in the board of these mosques were formerly educated in Saudi Arabia and basically they apply pseudoSaudi Sharia laws in regards of Islamic divorces through Europe and America. They will hardly ever support the womans decition to leave the abusive marrige and without this religious paper the woman is not able to enter new Islamic marriage and she's trapped for life in the marriage or living separated in shame and sin looked down on and is not ever able to marry again. Sometimes men will say to the person who has right to dissolute the marriage they are sorry and they will change but what they really mean is they will marry another woman and let their current wife suffer life of loneliness as punishment for ever bringing up the divorce up in the mosque. It's very important for the growing western Muslim community to bring this topic up and establish real Sharia courts in every country in Europe where is Islam practised by minorities so the Islamic right for divorce is granted for Muslim women outside of Islamic countries. Same way the world should pursuade Muslim states to establish proper social welfare for women and children both divorced and widowed.
I can identify with everything in this book. I've seen the same happen in mosques and in communities in Europe whereas their followers were Pakistani, Sudani, Turkish or even converts trapped in these unislamic ways of oppression.
However this book didn't completely explain that these modern families she admires are considered outcast and infidels and beside their workplace people will refuse mingle with them and perhaps even close family can disconnect with their children if they were too modern because of the gossip and shame it causes to the elderly parents. It's hurtful to hear from neighbours about their daughter in law bad moral conduct and they will force their son to make his wife to behave. Unfortunatelly it doesn't work the other way round. Westernised Muslim men are hardly ever disgrace to their families or seen as public shame. It's women only who are the symbol of their whole family moral conduct and that's why it's so hard to make a change.

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  • Mrs
  • 06-09-19

Excellent a real eye opener

Great book which reveals do much about The Kingdom and its treatment of women. Hopefully books like these may help to bring about change!!

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  • happyShopper
  • 11-16-18

Brilliant Storytelling

I'm enjoying this story and I'm on chapter 27 feeling as though I don't want the story to end. The account of the story is just so vivid and gripping I can't stop listening with intrigue as I want to know what happens next. The story whilst it is non-fiction has such a novel worthy feel to it that I am just loving it every step of the way. The life is Saudi is truly fascinated for me a westernised non-muslim to read about I couldn't imagine it until this story brought it to life for me. Thank you Quanta, may more women have the courage to share their stories as beautifully as you did!

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  • Honey
  • 11-22-17

Land of invisible women great book

Really enjoyed this book about women and the medical world and Saudi Arabia and progression of women Qanta has shown such an amazing overview of people from the West going to Saudi Arabia and the changes that have come over time. Some part of me was sad that nothing happened between Qanta and Imad I wish they had met again it’s a fact of life that sometimes people don’t get together. The experience of Hajj and umrah was very nice and great to read about. Being Pakistani and British I could understand the authors feelings and was great to read about

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  • Liz
  • 06-27-16

very informative and enjoyable

it is nice to read a book by a Muslim doctor about living on a Muslim world from a westerners perspective. a very interesting book that made me challenge my own views on the who establishment from highest to lowest level.

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  • Ann D
  • 05-02-14

Hmmm!

Is there anything you would change about this book?

It was a valuable read/listen for me, as I learned quite a bit about Saudi and Muslim culture. However, I did not warm to the author. There was a arrogance to her, admittedly one not uncommon to medics of a certain generation. She also seemed preoccupied with how physically attractive each person she met, or even simply saw, was. She repeatedly commented on each persons weight (likely lifestyle in respect of it), the straightness of their teeth, the size of noses etc. Generally, the writing was reasonably good, but in some chapters there was a jarringly clumsy use, and overuse, of metaphor and the language used was at time over-contrived.

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

It felt unfinished. There was more to say about returning to America as a British-Pakistani Muslim immediately post 9/11.

What three words best describe Nicola Barber’s performance?

A little too delicate for this particular book, but very good quality narration.

Could you see In the Land of Invisible Women being made into a movie or a TV series? Who would the stars be?

It probably would make a good movie.

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  • J Barnes
  • 09-23-19

Captivating!

I just could not put it down- well written and well told, a story I am glad the author shared.

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  • cameron.hoare
  • 01-13-19

eye opening

really really good memoir. i wished it went for longer. good insight into the saudi world.