Burned Alive is the devastating story of a young Arabic girl named Souad living in a small West Bank village that is run by the law of men, where women are practically worthless. Women here are beaten almost daily, and are used mostly for labor purposes, but most importantly, to produce sons. Not only do women go through horrible abuse and mistreatment, but they also live with the risk if being killed for committing even the smallest sin which brings embarrassment to the family.
In order to restore the family’s honor, they get a man, normally the girls’ brother, to perform a torturous honor killing Souad begins noticing a man that lives nearby, named Faiez. After gaining his attention, they use signals to communicate from afar, since a girl must be married before she can speak or even raise her eyes to a man besides her father or brother. They eventually start meeting in private every day, they begin discussing marriage, even though Souad knows it is unrealistic at the time, since her older sister must marry before she can.
Soon, Faiez starts to question Souads loyalty to him, and wants her prove her loyalty by letting him have her virginity. As badly as Souad does not want to do this, she knows that he will leave if she does not, so she lets him do what he wants. It’s not too long until Souad realizes that she is pregnant, and when she goes to tell Faiez, he has left the village, and will not return. Soon after, her stomach starts to grow, and her secret is out. The family decides that Hussein, Souads brother-in-law, will perform the honor killing.
Hussein attempts this by pouring gasoline on Souads head while washing clothes in a pot above a fire. Souad runs screaming out of the garden and into the street where two women began beating her with scarves trying to put the fire out. The next thing she knew, she awoke in a hospital. Shortly after this, while still in the hospital, her mother tried to poison her with a drink. Luckily, a nurse came in just in time, and stopped Souad from drinking the poison and banned any of Souads family from coming back to the hospital. Several weeks later, Souad was awakened by a sharp pain between her legs.
She had her baby, and didn’t even realize it. The doctors took her son, and she thought she would never see him again. A woman named Jacqueline, who was working in the Middle East with a humanitarian organization, heard of Souad’s story, and immediately started working to save her. She met with Souad, and tricked her parents into giving permission to take Souad to another country for better care. She got Souad’s son Marouan back and flew both of them to Switzerland, where she was given proper treatment. Once Souads burns were healed, she flew to Europe with Marouan to live with a foster family.
When Marouan was five years old, their foster parents adopted him, and though she felt guilty about it, Souad needed to learn to live life on her own. She eventually adjusted to Europe, and went on to live on her own, get a job, get married, and even have two daughters. She later reunited with her son when he was about 18. After reconnecting with her and forming a great bond with his sisters, Marouan moved in with the family. Souad and Jacqueline stayed in touch, and when Souad was emotionally strong enough, she began bearing witness for the SURGIR association and shared her story with hundreds of men and women.
I believe the author’s objective in writing this book was to inform the readers that not all cultures and beliefs are the same, and in some societies, what they believe is normal or right is actually very unfair. This story was written to open the reader’s eyes to the way woman are grossly unequal to men in some societies. They are sometimes not allowed to speak or look at a man, and they are often mistreated, abused, or even killed without any regard to their life. The book Burned Alive has many universal themes. One, for example, is acceptance.
Souads husband in Europe, as well as her three children, still loved and accepted her despite her past and her scarred skin. Another is fear. “I’ve realized in adulthood that the memories that remain of my childhood are all linked to fear,” says Souad. Souad, her sisters, and every other woman and man around the world has felt fear. One last universal theme in the book is guilt. Everyone feels guilt at some point in their life, including Souad when she gave Marouan up for adoption. “I feel guilty, many years later, for making this choice,” she said. Considering Burned Alive is a true story, many parts of it can tie into human geography.
For example, culture; it is typical of the cultures of the Middle East to treat women in what we in the western part of the world consider being a derogatory way. They require women to live by the men’s law and treat them basically as salves. Also in their culture, women are not allowed to get married until their older sisters do, women cannot go into a shop, wear jewelry, or pluck her eyebrows until she is married, a man can have several wives, and, of course, performing honor killings is very normal. The book also talks about the culture of Europe, and how tremendously different it is from the culture of the West Bank.
In Europe, women were allowed to get an education, to choose who they marry, and to wear makeup and dresses that show their knees. Although it is not elaborated on, religion is another aspect of human geography mentioned in Burned Alive. It does not specifically say Souads religions, but it does mention that she prays twice a day with her brother and sisters and that the people in her village were taught to hate the Jews. One last geographic theme in Burned Alive is political development. The book does not actually say anything about political development, but if their country was more developed, these horrible crimes would not be tolerated.
Also, in countries such as the ones in the West Bank, religion and politics are linked, and since their religion and culture believe that treating women that way is the right thing to do, their government allows it. Burned Alive was an amazing book. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was hard for me to put down. The fact that it was a true story made it even better. In my opinion, it was a complete story and was not really missing anything. It talked about all she could remember, and her life after the tragedy in full detail.