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Amal Awad spoke with women in the Arab world and Arab Australian women to discover what their lives are really like. The breadth, variety and beauty of what she discovered will surprise you.

Magnificent. Surprising. Illuminating. Australia needs this book.
NIKKI GEMMELL

As someone who has a foot in both the Western and Arabic worlds, Amal set out to explore the lives of Arab women, in Australia and the Middle East, travelling to the region and interviewing more than sixty women about feminism, intimacy, love, sex and shame, trauma, war, religion and culture.

Beyond Veiled Clichés explores the similarities and differences experienced by these women in their daily lives – work, relationships, home and family life, friendships, the communities they live in, and more. Arab-Australian women are at the intersection – between Western ideals and Arab tradition. It can get messy, but there is also great beauty in the layers.

In a time of racial tension and rising global fear around terrorism, there is a renewed fear of 'the other'. At its heart this fascinating book normalises people and their experiences. The breadth, variety and beauty of what Amal has discovered will enthral and surprise you.

Reviews

Awad, born in Australia to Muslim Palestinian parents, steps outside the framework of religion; some of the women to whom she gives a platform are religious, but many are not. Likewise, when Awad immerses herself in the Middle East, the hopeful determination of the women she meets provide a stark contrast to the bleak backdrop of Egypt's virginity tests and Jordan's reluctance to do away with honour crimes. Awad, takes a far more personal approach, mining her own background for material; Beyond Veiled Cliches approaches memoir at times. It is here, when describing her shifting relationship to faith and community, that her work is strongest and I hope her honesty is not lost on a western audience who may not fully appreciate just how fraught it can be to broach these issues. Awad's, [book breaks] new ground in the depiction of the lives of real Arab and Muslim women as they openly discuss such taboos as surgically "restoring" torn hymens, lesbianism, and bisexuality. Nothing seems off limits but nor is it used to isolate Arabs and Muslims. Rather, everything is placed in the context of an enduring global patriarchy that leaves few women untouched.

Ruby Hamad, The Sydney Morning Herald

Palestinian-Australian journalist and screenwriter Amal Awad draws on her personal background in Beyond Veiled Cliches, an engaging blend of memoir, travelogue and interviews exploring the lives of Arab women in Australia and the Middle East.The fact her focus is on Arab rather than Muslim women allows her to produce insights into the overlap between culture and religion.

Shakira Hussein, The Australian

Magnificent. Surprising. Illuminating. Australia needs this book.

Nikki Gemmell

Driven by Awad’s knowing and wry voice, Beyond Veiled Cliches, a book that transcends and has its moments of tarab [a state of ecstasy and emotional transformation brought on by music that overtakes the audience, dancers and musicians].

AICHA MARHFOUR, The Monthly

The most refreshing aspect of Beyond Veiled Cliches is that it subverts the narrative of Arab and Muslim women as a fixed category. Readers encounter a range of voices and stories that contradict and disagree and rub up against each other in different ways. This is the strength of Amal's book. There is no way to walk away with a single conclusion. Written with sensitivity and frankness, Amal presents readers with the nuance, complexity and diversity of Arab women both here and in the Middle East. This is not a work of sociology or anthropology and so the specific impact of geo-politics and colonialism on shaping the political, economic, cultural and social conditions that shape women's lives is not fully addressed. But that does not matter in the end. Because this is ultimately a book about women's lived experiences via their own testimonies. I particularly respect the fact that Amal never sits in judgment. She allows the women she has interviewed the freedom to speak on their own terms. Above all, Amal has clearly taken the brave decision to write without succumbing to the burden of representation. She successfully navigates her way around the potential for stories to reinforce stereotypes by demonstrating the diversity of experiences. Because of that, there is an honesty, rawness and integrity in her writing and in her presentation of the women's stories.

Randa Abdel-Fattah

Writing a good yarn is difficult. Evoking the voice of others is no picnic, either. With grace and with wit, Awad has done both, while offering us an informal but informed look at the lives and minds of Arab women. These others among others from that part of the world we in the West happily continue to find mysterious are not others, here. This is not a book that asks us to make moral or political choices and it is not a book that asks us to be better. It is a book, however, that will educate us about the region—and not just the way parts of it work, but how it has functioned to date in the Western view. You’ll take in a little foreign policy tuition without even knowing it in a book that is warm and wise.

Helen Razer

Whatever I believed to be true about Arabic women, the voices of these women have disrupted my beliefs and deepened my understanding of how they really live.

Judith Grace, Good Reading magazine

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback

    9780143782612

    May 29, 2017

    Vintage Australia

    304 pages

    RRP $34.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook

    9780143782629

    May 29, 2017

    RHA eBooks Adult

    304 pages

    Online retailers

    • iBooks
    • Amazon Kindle
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks
    • Google Play
    • Kobo
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

Extract

Dubai is many things – interesting, enthralling, unusual – but it’s not a genuine glimpse of the Arab world. That’s not to say I didn’t like it. But it felt more like a business centre dropped into the middle of the desert than the Middle East I knew. It’s a world designed to encourage and promote the growth of ideas and invention. And it’s making great inroads in the representation of Emirati women in the workforce and in government. At the time of my visit, the UAE had eight female ministers in its thirty- member cabinet, and its ambitious 2020 Expo was being led by Reem Al Hashimy, another high-achieving woman. With its large expat community, many women are also active in the workplace. Laudy Lahdo, a Lebanese-Australian woman, is based out of Dubai as the general manager of Servcorp Middle East. She has found great success in her industry: in her first year working there, she won an award for manager of the year. So Dubai may have its critics, but arguably it is a place of dreams – easier to reach than the US if you’re from the East; attractive to Westerners for its financial benefits and imitations of Western life.

But my authentic Bedouin experience was quickly turning sour.

I had longed to touch the desert sands, and after a month of intense interactions and travel in the region, I wanted to have some fun with Chris. So I’d registered us for this expedition of desert exploration. I had no idea at the time that trips like this in Dubai constituted an entire industry, so large in scale that the only variations between tourist providers was whether you paid more and got a bottle of booze thrown in.

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