Book Review: The Butterfly Mosque

Meet G. Willow Wilson. She’s an American. She lived in Egypt for a while. She converted to Islam. She fell in love with a local. She wrote a book about all of this called The Butterfly Mosque. You should read it.

After graduating from college in the summer of 2003, Wilson leaves for Cairo to work as a teacher in an English-language school. Thanks to a series of events beforehand, Wilson, who had been brought up as an atheist, knew one thing: that if she boarded that plane to Cairo, she would become a Muslim. Keeping that bit of information from her family and friends, she starts her life in Cairo as a closet Muslim and that’s when she meets Omar, who she soon marries.

With The Butterfly Mosque, the author really has something great on her hands. She strikes a balance with all three of the stories she tells – the travel memoir, her discovery and path to Islam, finding love with someone halfway across the world, and presents a narrative that is never preachy nor self indulgent while offering a unique insight into life abroad.

This book isn’t just about Wilson though, it’s also about all the people with whom she interacts. She gives Egyptians, and with her trip to Iran, Persians, an identity that sometimes gets lost among all that we hear about the Middle East here in the United States. This reminds me of something my Arabic teacher once said – as an Egyptian who had moved to the U.S. a few years ago, he had not even considered himself Arab until he came here and was instantly classified as such.

I have to admit, I’m already fan of Wilson’s. I liked her graphic novel Cairo and her comic Air is one of only two monthly comic book titles I read. Yet, this book isn’t just limited to fans of her comic books. The author succeeds in writing a book that can be appreciated by many audiences. One can read The Butterfly Mosque to get a glimpse into the life of an American living in another country while someone else may be curious about the issues Wilson discusses that inevitably result from a cross cultural relationship and from her odyssey into Islam.

In the end, The Butterfly Mosque isn’t just another memoir. G. Willow Wilson’s voice differentiates it from so many other books. Her affable manner in conjunction with her sense of humor and resolve has the ability to really connect with the reader. Simply put, I really liked this book and can’t recommend it enough.

The Butterfly Mosque is published by Atlantic Monthly Press and will be released June 1st. Read it! I command you…

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