The convertedGraywolf Press, 246 pp., $23
By Tricia Springstubb
Even if a "stout and stubborn little girl" growing in the 1940s, Margaret Marcus believes that Western civilization was on the wrong track. Despising the secular Judaism of his family, it aspires to be free of materialism and governed by the sacred law.
In close to his home in Mamaroneck, New York, public library discovered Margaret "The road to Mecca," a book written by a Jew converted to Islam and read dozens of times. In 1961, she was a correspondent with the powerful religious leader Mawlana Abul Al Mawdudi, who invited him, now Maryam Jameelah, to become a kind of adoptive daughter and a member of his household. Twenty-seven years, it has raised only for Lahore, Pakistan.
Deborah Baker tells this story in "The convert: A Tale of exile and extremism," a new biography as absorbent as a great detective story. It has no easy answers. Baker earlier book, "in Extremis: the life of Laura Riding," focused on British poet of the 20th century and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
As the constituency, Margaret/Maryam was not easy to love someone. A social misfit attracted by absolute, Margaret started the University of Rochester and the University of New York. Here and in Pakistan, it has suffered devastating mental breakdowns.
However, Baker made Maryam research for a community that would "accommodate the idea of a soul" poignant and heartbreaking. With the help of dozens of letters and essays and leaflets distributed extensively Maryam, Baker rebuilt his relationship with Mawdudi, who helped lay the intellectual foundations of militant Islam. The American of Pakistani who parked a truck filled with explosives in Times Square, cited last year his work.
Maryam went to Pakistan, expecting a precious, only to be treated as too openly and demanding role. However, his belief that Islam was at home has never wavered, even when she found herself second wife of another man and mother of children, she never wanted. In 2007, Baker visited him in Lahore and found an old fragile woman "living alone in a room with a little more of his faith and his library." for comfort she still lives.
In this book, Baker asks urgent questions on how America and the Muslims of the world sometimes becomes "the other evil cartoons." She explores if current enmity is more driven by history or metaphysics. As Maryam, it believes that its own American interests in the Middle East contributed to corrupt Governments and the rise of extremism. The difference of Maryam, it deplores the fringe of Islam that judges the success of the woman as fidelity to her husband, who condemns art and celebrating suicide bombings.
Twining in addition to his own life with his subject, Baker received consent of Maryam of condense letters. She retains her voice earnest, very eloquent, with their underlying emotional distress.
Cutting back and forth between two bewildered lives of Maryam/Margaret Baker gives us a miserable, privileged woman whose argument with his house was so strong that hers has become one of the most incisive voices of the argument of Islam with the West.
In this superb biography, Baker in fact an argument deserves our attention.
Tricia Springstubb is an author in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.