Your New Reading List: Marnia Lazreg’s Picks

The common theme that runs through Marnia Lazreg’s, author of Torture and the Twilight of the Empire: From Algiers to Baghdad and Questioning the Veil: Open Letters to Muslim Women, reading list is this: Survival.

From the plight of Austen’s most famous heroine to questions of justice and freedom in Dickens to extreme imbalances in immigrant status in 19th century New York, Marnia’s choices all comment on what it takes to survive predetermined – and often unjust – circumstances.

“This summer, between deadlines, I have read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which I had read when I was 15 years old.  Re-reading the book now is like reading it for the first time. I had missed how universal the situation of women that Austen describes [is] in spite of cultural differences: women were disadvantaged by some property laws, their reputation (and thus marriageability) rode on their chastity, and on the whole [they] depended on men for their survival no matter how much they rebelled against their social condition.”

“I am at present reading Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, which tackles political injustice in the late XVIIIth century London and Paris.  Torture was inflicted for a range of offenses from minor to more serious; the guillotine (in France) was set up in a public square for all to watch ‘justice’ in action.   As an author of a book on torture, I am struck by the acceptance of this practice, then as now, as a ‘just’ treatment of people whose crimes could be simply objecting to political tyranny or poverty.”

“In between, I read Caleb Carr’s historical thriller, The Alienist, which gave me a sense of the chaos, extremes of poverty and wealth, lack of public hygiene, [and] exploitation of immigrants’ children in XIXth century New York, especially the Lower East Side.  Many countries in the world today experience similar problems, which makes me realize how fast (relatively speaking) New York has turned things around.  The book also descrbies the difficulty encountered by a scientist in bringing in new conceptions of criminality.  Changing deep-seated worldviews is a continuing challenge.”

You may have read a book or two in Marnia’s list before, but have you ever considered re-reading with fresh eyes? Like Marnia, you might discover a new perspective that you missed the first time around.

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