The Woman Who Fell from the Sky, by Jennifer Steil

womanwhofellIn the mid-2000s, Jennifer Steil agreed to teach a three-week course on proper journalism in Yemen. At the end of her time there, she was offered a year-long contract managing the newspaper, and after a few weeks of reflection back in the states, she decided to accept. She returned to Yemen and began a fairly painful journey trying to improve the newspaper she was put in charge of.

Okay I know that description doesn’t sound like much unless you’re particularly interested in journalism or a behind-the-scenes look at how newspapers work. However, that’s not all this book is about. At its heart, this book is really about Yemen and the Yemeni people, and that’s why I wanted to read it. I’m not personally interested in journalism or newspapers, but I am interested in Yemen.

I didn’t even know where Yemen existed on a map before my sister spent a year teaching English there in 2005-2006, but ever since she went, the country has fascinated me. I loved her stories and have read a lot about Yemen since then, including one of my Enchantment books that I reviewed awhile back. I loved hearing all about the people and the culture, which is why I wanted to read this book. I was delighted that Steil included a lot of culture and people and traditions all through the book rather than focusing solely on journalism. It was actually pretty funny to read because a lot of the issues and problems Steil encounters with her staff at the newspaper are the same ones that my sister encountered with her students.

That really brings home what I liked so much about this book: it was a real and true look at the Yemeni people and at Yemeni culture. It did not, like in some memoirs I’ve read from the Middle East (The Bookseller of Kabul), treat Middle Eastern culture or Islam as inferior, stupid, backward, or alien. Steil took the time before going to Yemen to study the culture, and she embraced it as much as she could. She also respected the religious practices of the people in Yemen. She doesn’t condone everything that happens in Yemen, but she also doesn’t blanket-crucify everything that does (as Seierstad did). Steil takes the time to know the difference between injustice and simple cultural/religious differences. That is apparent from the very beginning of the book, and what made this book absolutely wonderful to me.

Steil is also a fantastic writer. Many memoirs are scattered and sort of random, but this one is cohesive and well put together. Steil demonstrates her training as a journalist and writer in this book so that not only is it respectful and accurate, but interesting to read. It normally takes me weeks to get through nonfiction but this only took a few days. I absolutely adored it!

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
This entry was posted in 2011, Adult, Prose and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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