Stolz, Joelle. 1999. The Shadows of Ghadames. New York: Delacourt Press. ISBN 0385731043.
B. Plot Summary
The Shadows of Ghadames illuminates the lives of women in late 1800s Libya, demonstrating the customs of the harem and the man-dominated world. Coming of age in this culture is eleven-year-old Malika, who, with the help of a stranger, begins to dream of a possible life loosened from the centuries-old constraints on women.
C. Critical Analysis
The Shadows of Ghadames was written by the French author Joelle Stolz, who traveled to this ancient city to research for her novel. From the knowledge gained, Stolz gives a realistic account of late 19th century life for women in the harems of Ghadames.
Traditional names are used, language depicting everyday life and activities is used, such as the description of a kerna, "...the wide, hard base of a palm tree branch..." used to beat "...the stalks to separate the grain..." or the malafa, "...the rectangle of embroidered wool tied under the chin with laces that girls wear on their heads until marriage."
Many traditions are brought out in the novel along with vivid descriptions of how women live out their lives on the rooftops of the city, visiting only other women, a world where men do not enter.
All the characters in the novel are authentic. The men and women all follow the traditions, yet changes are being discerned by the protagonist Malika and is actually encouraged by her father's second wife to think beyond the walls of her home.
The Shadows of Ghadames is well-written and thought provoking. It allows one into the secret world of Libya's Muslim women while also portraying universal themes of jealousy, anger, and rebellion as Malika prepares to enter adolescence.
D. Review Excerpt
School Library Journal: In Libya at the end of the 19th century, upper-class women were confined to their homes and rooftops, leading a quiet life filled with household tasks. Nearly 12, Malika is about to enter that world, although not without regret for the loss of freedom and the education her brother has. Her father's two wives offer her good models: her upper-class mother, the "wife from home," who calmly runs the household, and her brother's mother, the "wife from the journey," who moves more freely about the city, still veiled and hiding in dark alleys when a man appears. In spite of their upbringing and their husband's departure on business, the two women rescue a man injured outside their home. Abdelkarim remains hidden with them while they nurse his wounds, and as he recovers, he and Malika come to see that the world of women is richer than they thought. He teaches Malika her alphabet before he is smuggled away, and her mother, admitting that times are changing, finally agrees to let her learn to read.
Booklist: In the Libyan city of Ghadames at the end of the nineteenth century, Malika is dreading her twelfth birthday. That is the time when, according to her family's Berber customs, she will be close to marriageable age and confined to the world of women. In Ghadames that means restriction to the rooftops, "a city above the city, an open sunny town for women only, where . . . they never talk to men." Malika longs to live beyond the segregated city and travel, like her father, a trader. But the wider world comes to Malika after her father's two wives agree to harbor, in secret, a wounded stranger. The story of an outsider who unsettles a household and helps a young person to grow is certainly nothing new, and some of the lessons here are purposeful. But Stolz invigorates her tale with elegant prose and a deft portrayal of a girl verging on adolescence. The vivid backdrop is intoxicating, but the story's universal concerns will touch readers most: sibling jealously, confusion about adult customs, and a growing interest in a world beyond family.
This novel could be useful in comparing and contrasting other ancient cultures' expectations for women.
Debate could be utilized to discuss the merits of a world dominated by men vs. one where women are more equal.