11
October
2011

The Convert, Deborah Baker0

I found the way Baker set up her novel pretty interesting. I especially like how she began the chapters with Mawlana Mawdudi’s letter to Maryam Jameelah. Right from that letter, it gave readers a glimpses of what the entire novel would be about. Not that the title itself didn’t give it away. But placing Mawdudi’s letter first, Baker has succeeded in bringing the attention of how different the “way of life and social conditions are” between Pakistan and America. His letter is like the introduction to the rest of the book.

Baker used the archives from the NYPL to illustrate the views of a once Jewish woman who converted into a Muslim. Baker used Jameelah’s letter send between Jameelah and her parents to take readers into Jameelah’s world and learn how things began and why did it began in the first place.

When Baker was first reading through Jameelah’s letters, Baker disagreed with Jameelah’s view of the Muslim world. “Who was Margaret Marcus to tell anyone what being a Muslim was all about, as if it were just one thing?” However just when Baker was about to “turn away… something in” Jameelah’s letter kept “bringing [her] back.” After awhile, Baker realized that Jameelah’s letters aren’t just letters for her parents to read, but letters Jameelah wish for the future generations to read and understand as well.

In the beginning the archives put together the question why Jameelah converted. Jameelah had mentioned that many people have asked her such question but only the man “who had prayed” with her understood. Jameelah’s father was more concerned about the “image” in American society, whether it is acceptable or not, more than “giving up Judaism.”

During the middle, Baker used archives to try to piece together Jameelah’s sanity. “An unsigned editorial” found Jameelah’s insanity as a cry for help. “She had no idea that she would be joining a community where not only is the human body enslaved, but the soul is as well.”

“She might have been unhappy as a Jew, but at least she had the choice to question her society and renounce her family’s beliefs.”

Baker then used the NYPL to try to understand who Mawdudi was, as a muslim, as “the founding father of political Islam” and as Jameelah’s guardian. “His motivation for inviting Maryam Jameelah to Lahore remains a mystery.” Through Mawdudi’s memoirs, Baker was piecing together what the Qur’an stood for in Islamic culture. Baker questions Mawdudi’s perspectives, and questions “who is to decide what the fundamental truths of Islam are or aren’t?”

The letters Jameelah wrote showed her experiences in the madhouse to be disturbing. Jameelah compared the unhealthy conditions of the woman patients to the site of the concentration camps for Jews in Germany. “The line that divides sickness from sanity, real danger from imaginary persecution, sis not always clearly drawn.” Baker had to reread many of the archives over again in case she missed anything that might have been important. Jameelah’s letters shows no signs of regret, instead it expressed “near perfect contentment.”

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