While news headlines cover torture and executions carried out under Saddam Hussein’s orders, this memoir covers the deeper mental and psychological effects of his tyranny. Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam tells the revealing and inspirational story of Zainab Salbi, an extraordinary Iraqi woman whose father, and by extension her whole family, was bound by employment to the notorious dictator.
Between Two Worlds chronicles Salbi’s life from her childhood in Iraq to her adult life as a humanitarian, and the evolution of her relationship with her beloved mother, Alia. When she was eleven, her father was chosen to serve as Saddam’s pilot, thereby putting the family under his surveillance. As opposed to the superficial news stories we have heard of Saddam’s tyranny and oppression, Salbi gives first-hand accounts of interaction with this dangerous man; his charisma and his power of manipulation as well as the way he ruled Iraq like a child playing with toy soldiers. Despite being raised in a progressive, feminist household, Salbi arrives in the United States under the condition of an arranged marriage, which she would later discover was intended to protect her from becoming Saddam’s next wife.
Salbi would later found Women for Women International, a humanitarian organization dedicated to aiding women in warzones. For a time, she hides behind her philanthropic work; helping others in need as a means of denying her own lasting trauma sustained under Saddam’s reign. Ultimately she emerges triumphant over her past, proving her strength and resilience to become an inspiration to women worldwide.
In a time in which Islam is stigmatized and associated solely with terrorism, Between Two Worlds is significant in that it depicts Salbi’s Muslim upbringing and the questioning of her faith when she discovers the differences between Shiites and Sunnis. Although the American media criticizes the Muslim world for its treatment of women, Salbi portrays the customs of Muslim weddings and marriage as equally favorable towards all parties, thereby depicting the positive aspects of a culture that has been widely misunderstood.
Between Two Worlds is engagingly narrated and at times startlingly candid, and evokes inspiration and awe regardless of the readers’ cultural origins. For a reliable account of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, I recommend looking to citizens who lived under him rather than media outlets that are simply looking for the next scandal.