The Shadows of Ghadames

Written by Joёlle Stolz
Review by Pat Maynard

This is a young adult coming-of-age story set at the end of the nineteenth century in the City of Ghadames, Libia. After eleven year old Melika’s merchant father leaves on one of his trading caravans, his second wife, Bilkisu, rescues a young man injured near their home. Although it’s considered taboo to have an unrelated male in the house while the husband is away, Bilkisu, Melika and her mother smuggle him into a small room on their rooftop in order to treat his wounds. As Melika interrelates with the stranger, she begins pondering the vast differences between the lives of men and women in their isolated, closely knit Muslim community. Among numerous other engrained traditions, women are mainly restricted to their homes and rooftops and expected to keep their faces covered in the presence of any unrelated males. Education of women is also discouraged but Melika’s mother, sensing that the times are changing, allows the stranger to teach her daughter the alphabet before he’s eventually secreted away by the women to safety.

Although Melika and her family are fictional, the City of Ghadames is not— nor are the accounts of its customs at the end of the nineteenth century. Today many of those old customs have changed radically. Its residents live in modern homes built by the government, while the women lead must less restrictive lives and are educated just like the males.