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Bookmarks Issue: 
58-May-June-2012
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737397.pngJournalist Deborah Scroggins, a former foreign correspondent for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is the author of the award-winning Emma’s War (2001), which tells the story of a British aid worker who married a Sudanese warlord.

The Topic: In this dual biography, Scroggins fleshes out the War on Terror through the lives of two diametrically dissimilar but equally polarizing women: Somali refugee-turned-Dutch politician and best-selling author Ayaan Hirsi Ali and MIT-educated neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, the highest-ranking female in Al Qaeda. Ali, who fled to Europe to escape an arranged marriage, embraced Western culture and rose to power in the Dutch Parliament, where she became a ferocious, outspoken critic of Islam. Meanwhile, Siddiqui, considered a hero in her native Pakistan, sacrificed her marriage and career to implement her radical beliefs and was eventually captured by U.S. forces and convicted of attempted murder. In their own, divergent ways, both women have been defined by fundamentalism and have become powerful symbols in our understanding of it.
Harper. 560 pages. $27.99. ISBN: 9780060898977

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Lies, death threats, battles over the need for bodyguards, secret marriages, and disappearances that extend for years add to the intrigue. … Thought-provoking and thorough, Scroggins’s comprehensive book offers a unique perspective on the tensions between Islam and the West as seen through the life stories of two very different and influential women." Lee E. Cart

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"The structure is distracting at first, but it heightens suspense in the second and third sections, in which both women turn their versions of Islam—and their personal ambitions—loose in the world. … Wanted Women is a necessary reminder that no individual’s story is the best lens through which to understand this complex global story—least of all when one casts oneself as the hero of that story." Jina Moore

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"It is undeniably a risky undertaking to attempt to write the biography of not one but two living figures who were unwilling to participate in the endeavor. But Scroggins, with her journalistic doggedness, does a remarkable job of reporting and reconstruction, and Wanted Women serves as a valuable contribution to contemporary history, recounting two ways in which a modern woman’s identity can be hers for the making—even if the outcome is tragic." Eliza Griswold

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Wanted Women manages to evoke the complexity in both women’s backgrounds, despite their rigid positions and their often maddening single-mindedness. … While neither woman proves to be especially sympathetic, in Scroggins’s telling, their lives make a fascinating story that reflects this polarized era." Rachel Newcomb

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"She works hard to make both women come alive, and to both she is to some degree sympathetic. … But the portrait of Ms. Hirsi Ali is frequently so one-sided that the author seems nearly as needlessly combative and complexity-free as she claims Ms. Hirsi Ali has been." Dwight Garner

Critical Summary

In this "sober and provocative new book" (New York Times), Scroggins alternates between Ali and Siddiqui in short chapters, using their stories as a framework to tell the larger story of the War on Terror. While the Christian Science Monitor found this structure distracting, the others claimed that it propels the narrative and heightens suspense. Scroggins scrupulously re-creates each woman’s life, evoking the complex individuals behind their public facades, but the New York Times wished for a bit more balance, noting an obvious bias against Ali. While neither woman is particularly agreeable, Scroggins’s concise writing and exhaustive research make them compelling. Provocative and riveting, Wanted Women, despite a flaw or two, is a valuable addition to our grasp of the conflict between East and West.