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International Literature Book #2


Stolz, Joelle. The shadows of Ghadmes. Translated by Catherine Temerson. New York: Delacorte Press, 2004.  ISBN: 0-385-90131-3.


The Shadows of Ghadames is a young adult novel about the people of Ghadames.  The plot centers around the coming of age of a girl, Malika, at the end of the nineteenth century in Ghadames a southern town in Lybia, Africa.


Malika is 12 years old, her body is changing and soon the freedom she enjoys as a child will end with an arranged marriage.   Malika notices the differences that exist in her society between men and women.  Each gender has its specific code of conduct, duties, and place of co-habitation.  The men are free to travel the world and walk the streets, while the women are confined to stay home and are only allowed to roam the city by traveling on the rooftops.  Women are not allowed to interact with men outside the immediate family; therefore, men are not allowed on the rooftops.


During one of her fathers journeys Malika stays home with her mother, brother, and her brother’s mother, Balkisu.  One night Balkisu defies the strict codes of behavior by rescuing a wounded stranger.  The women in the family decide to keep this a secret among women only.  They hide and take care of Abdelkarim with the help of a wise woman by keeping him on the rooftop.  In return, Abdelkarim offers to teach Malika the Arabian alphabet.  The burning desire she had to read, write, and to know about the world made it simple for her to learn.


The story is rich in culture and details about Ghadames daily life.  The author describes very realistically the everyday tasks Malika and the women perform such as cooking and food preservation techniques while keeping the reader’s attention on the unfolding of events that focus on the way life is gradually changing for Malika.


A minor weakness is that the author created a too good to be true relationship between the two wives.  She does mention that at the arrival of Balkisu both were hurt, but that they got adjusted very easily with the excitement of their pregnancies.  However, after that the two wives live very happy with the relationship.  They never scorn or criticize each other. 


This book is an excellent tool that can be used to teach our teenagers how adolescents in other societies of the world come to age and mature very early in life.  It will make them realize that Americans have a much longer childhood then in many countries of the world.


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