The New York Times Book Review
A New York Jewish Girl Becomes an Islamist
Lorraine Adams / May 22, 2011
“Deborah Baker is a serious biographer who specializes in fairly crazy writers. Her study of the poet Laura Riding, who survived a suicide attempt in 1929, during her 14-year menage-a-trois with Robert Graves and his wife, was a Pulitzer finalist. Next came “A Blue Hand” her portrait of the Beats in India, none of whom were in robust mental health. Even these have nothing on Maryam Jameelah, a New York Jewish convert to Islam who — as a disciple of Pakistan’s world renowned fundamentalist — made a career out of condemning the West in dozens of books and pamphlets. Baker not only makes us care about a disturbed woman and her hectoring prose, she has succeeded in composing a mesmerizing book on one of the more curious East-West encounters. She proves once again how a marginal case can be an illuminating way into vast and much disputed subjects, in this instance the meeting of West and East and the role of women under orthodox Islam.
Sexual secrets? Suspense? Drama? Reversals? They’re all here. […] As it is Baker’s captivating account conveys the instability, faith, politics and improbable cultural migration that make [Maryam] Jameelah’s life so difficult to sum up yet impossible to dismiss.