cover image Guest House for Young Widows: The Women of ISIS

Guest House for Young Widows: The Women of ISIS

Asadeh Moaveni. Random House, $28 (330p) ISBN 978-0-399-17975-4

In this searing investigation, Moaveni, an Iranian-American journalist (Honeymoon in Tehran), explores the phenomenon of Muslim women—many of them educated, successful, and outwardly Westernized—choosing to travel to Syria in support of jihad. She follows 13 women and girls who were radicalized by news, by recruiters on social media, or within their social circles. Many of them naively dreamed of handsome warrior husbands, “camels trudging through a glowing vermilion sandstorm and Moorish palaces set against the moonlight.” In Syria, many found that “the militants [were] no better than the tyrants they claimed to oppose” and their new husbands, assigned immediately upon arrival by ISIS, were often alarming (some described as “swiping through phone apps for sex slaves”). The guest house of the title, which most women come to know well, since the men die so quickly, “was a place of such deliberate uninhabitability that few women could stay long without going mad. This was precisely the intention.... Refusing to marry was recalcitrant behavior that would not be enabled by a comfortable private room with en suite bathroom.” In concise, visceral vignettes, Moaveni immerses her readers in a milieu saturated with the romantic appeal of violence. The result is a journalistic tour de force that lays bare the inner lives, motivations, and aspirations of her subjects. (Sept.)