Thursday, May 18, 2006

Memoir: Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life

One of my book groups selected Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life by Queen Noor this spring. Unfortunately, I missed the group discussion, but I did read the 440-page book and learned a great deal.

Leap of Faith chronicles the life of Queen Noor, an American woman (Lisa Halaby) who married King Hussein of Jordan and became Queen. The book begins with an overview of Lisa's privileged childhood and family history. Her paternal grandfather immigrated from Syria to the United States when he was twelve years old, and Lisa had long been intrigued by her Arab roots (her mother's family was European). After graduating from Princeton with a degree in architecture and urban planning, she worked in the Middle East and met King Hussein, a longtime friend of her father.

She and King Hussein fell in love and married, and Lisa became Queen Noor Al Hussein of Jordan. Queen Noor tells of the joys and challenges of suddenly becoming royalty, raising a family, and gradually taking on personal missions to improve health and education and promote peace.

I found Queen Noor's tone a bit detached and cool, although some of what she shares is quite personal. The book didn't have the sort of "talking to my best friend" confidential tone that makes many memoirs so compelling, probably in part due to Queen Noor's very public life.

Despite this minor flaw, I was fascinated by the book and had no trouble finishing it. While the details and struggles of Queen Noor's personal life were interesting, as is any glimpse into the celebrity world, the book's information and insights into the complicated politics of the Middle East were even more absorbing.

I'm embarrassed to admit how little I knew about the history and culture of this conflict-ridden region. Perhaps I didn't retain much from my school History classes because they focused on dull facts and dates. That wasn't a problem here; it was fascinating to read about the Middle East from the perspective of one of its leaders. Queen Noor's book not only tells of her life but also details her husband's views, priorities, and actions. I was pleasantly surprised to learn of King Hussein's passionate commitment to peace above all else in a region long known for violence and war.

I was also enlightened to read about America and our foreign policies from the point of view of an Arab leader. I remember learning about the Camp David talks and subsequent peace accord while I was in junior high. Here in the United States, President Carter was viewed as a hero for his work with Egypt and Israel. Queen Noor explains how King Hussein was frustrated and dismayed by the Camp David talks because they occurred just as he was on the verge of finally coordinating a peace conference among all nations of the Middle East. By pulling Egypt and Israel out on their own, President Carter actually created a great deal of tension in the Arab world. This was a viewpoint I had never considered.

All in all, I thought Leap of Faith was a very enlightening and thought-provoking book. I learned a lot about this critical region which continues to be in turmoil, gained some new perspectives, and enjoyed the insights into royal life in the public eye.

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