Those who are familiar with Nujood Ali’s story from the news would be drawn to this book, though they must be warned of the raw, gut-wrenching power of this precocious little girl’s voice. This is a not a book one can breeze through; it is the astonishing, tragic yet ultimately triumphant story of a child bride, her lost innocence, and her courage and determination to stand up for her rights. I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced is one of the most emotionally intense literary experiences of my life.
Nujood is a carefree girl living with her large family in a remote Yemeni village until, for reasons unbeknownst to her, the family suddenly relocates to a destitute town where they must beg on the streets for their next meal. For a time Nujood remains unaware of the hardships suffered by her older sisters—one in an arranged marriage, another jailed for adultery—until the day she’s married off to a man in his thirties when she’s just 10 years old, and the realities of life for women in Yemen become real to her. She endures beatings and marital rape until the day she runs away to the courthouse and demands a divorce—thereby becoming the world’s youngest divorcee and an advocate for women across the Middle East.
In the midst of the nightmare within her husband’s home, coming to Nujood’s rescue is her father’s second wife, Dowla, who instructs her to go to the courthouse; the only adult in her family who heeds her cries for help. Upon Nujood’s arrival at the courthouse, among those who come to her aid is Shada Nasser, a human rights lawyer who becomes devoted to her cause; the Wahed family, who takes her in for a time before court proceedings; and a slew of lawyers and journalists who take Nujood under their wing and inspire her to become a lawyer herself.
Also moving are the devastating trials of Nujood’s older sister Mona: her own arranged marriage to her rapist, her public shame, her husband’s imprisonment and the loss of her child. In a culture that sweeps scandal under the rug for the sake of honor, Nujood doesn’t know of Mona’s plight until after the trial, and the reveal of her sufferings serves to highlight the extent to which the patriarchal mindset of Yemen is ingrained, and the maintenance of public esteem at the cost of women’s dignity.
These ordeals depicted are devastating, the injustice appalling, as the primitive nature of archaic, discriminatory customs offends a mainstream reader’s sense of morality. Before picking up this book, brace yourself for horror, outrage, grief and indignation, and bear in mind that Nujood does win in the end, and is granted her divorce and her right to an education. Though not an easy read by any means, I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced is among the most socially relevant and rewarding books in print today.