Saturday, 21 April 2012

Book Review: A World I Loved, by Wadad Makdisi Cortas (2009)

The personal memoir of a Lebanese educator, A World I Loved offers little beyond a clear passion for country and culture. Wadad Makdisi Cortas dedicated her life to the education of young women in Lebanon, and her book summarizes her observations and some of her experiences from 1917 to the late 1970s.

Makdisi Cortas is the mother-in-law of Edward Said, and it is difficult to reach any conclusion other than family connections playing a crucial role in this autobiography getting published. A World I Loved is a personal diary of travel stories and political commentary of interest primarily to immediate friends and family. It's a struggle to imagine anything here of value to a broader audience.

The book alternates stories of travel with a superficial history of Lebanon and the Middle East. The journeys to various cities as recorded by Makdisi Cortas veer into tiresome mini-histories, personal experiences and stories recounted to the author by her father. None of these sections are in least bit interesting.

The observations of politics and history unfolding in the Middle East throughout the 20th century are marginally more engaging, but personal to the point of irrelevance. Makdisi Cortas presents her political views and those of her father and close family circle, lamenting the meddling of colonial powers, the rise of Israel, the fragmentation of the Arab world, and finally the destruction of Lebanon in the Civil War that started in 1975. There is clear emotion behind her writing, but little genuine insight and nothing that is not covered much better elsewhere.

Through her efforts at the Ahliah School for Girls, Makdisi Cortas undoubtedly contributed greatly to the education of Arab women and to the progress of Lebanese society. There may be a story to tell about her impact and legacy on women in the Middle East, but this book is not it.

Subtitled The Story Of An Arab Woman.
192 pages, plus Afterword (by Najla Said), Historical Overview (by Mariam Said), and Notes.
Published by Nation Books.

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