cover image Growing Up bin Laden: Osama’s Wife and Son Take Us Inside Their Secret World

Growing Up bin Laden: Osama’s Wife and Son Take Us Inside Their Secret World

Jean Sasson, Najwa bin Laden, Omar bin Laden, . . St. Martin?s, $25.99 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-312-56016-4

This memoir by Osama bin Laden’s first wife and fourth son attempts to illuminate the flesh-and-blood man behind the jihad. They trade chapters, starting in the 1980s and Afghanistan’s insurgency against the Soviet Union, through suicide bombing of the American embassy in Kenya and the USS Cole , on through the hijacking of jetliners in order to fly them into the World Trade Center. Najwa recounts a domestic life of courtship in Saudi Arabia, marriage (one among six wives for bin Laden), children (11 for Najwa in all) and living in almost total isolation according to her husband’s strict conservative demands. Omar recalls being toughened up by his father (he was deprived of water while in the desert), growing up uneducated, worrying about his mother’s numerous pregnancies in primitive settings and witnessing Qaeda training camps in the mountains of Tora Bora, where his father was nearly killed by American forces in 2003. The material for this memoir began when Omar contacted Jean Sasson, a veteran Middle East correspondent, requesting that she write about his efforts to start a peace movement. At Omar’s request, his mother offered to participate, too. The result is a memoir that adds color to an otherwise cloudy character, but one that stops short of true revelation, as mother and son left Afghanistan before September 11. Omar has since made public demands—which are rare for a son to do in Arab culture—of his father to “change his ways.” (Nov.)