Jean Sasson met Mayada Al-Askari on a trip to Baghdad in 1998. One year later, Jean learned that Mayada had been taken without the knowledge of her family from the tiny print shop that she owned, and imprisoned in the notorious Baladiyat Prison-headquarters of Saddam Hussein's infamous secret police.
Mayada's story both past and present is truly incredible. Her family was one of the most distinguished and honored families in Iraq. One grandfather fought alongside Lawrence of Arabia. The other was the first true Arab nationalist (admired greatly by Saddam Hussein). Her uncle was Prime Minister of Iraq for nearly forty years; her mother, an important government official.
From personal meetings with Saddam Hussein and Chemical Ali to raising two small children as a single mother, Mayada's life was at once privileged, yet carefully balanced. But life can shift quickly in Iraq and Mayada finds herself thrown into a small cell with seventeen other women. The shadow women. The women rally around each other to share their unbelievable stories and in so doing gain the strength to survive. The names of the shadow women are scrawled in charcoal onto the cell wall in the hopes that one day one of them will make it out to tell others of their existence. This is Mayada's courageous story, but also that of her sisters.
When author Sasson (Esther's Child; Princess Sultana's Circle; etc.) was assigned Mayada Al-Askari as a translator on a 1998 trip to Baghdad, she had no idea she would form a lasting friendship with this fluent English-speaker and member of a prominent Iraqi family. When Sasson returned to the United States, the two women wrote letters and telephoned each other weekly until, in 1999, Mayada was arrested by Saddam Hussein's secret police for allegedly printing anti-regime pamphlets in her Baghdad print shop and imprisoned for nearly a month in Iraq's brutal Baladiyat Prison. Sasson's candid, straightforward account of Mayada's time among the 17 "shadow women" crammed into Cell 52 gives readers a glimpse of the cruelty and hardship endured by generations of Iraqis. Mayada stares down this ugliness as soon as she's yanked from her meticulously run shop into the prison's interrogation room: "She saw chairs with bindings, tables stacked high with various instruments of torture.... But the most frightening pieces of... equipment were the various hooks that dangled from the ceiling. When Mayada glanced to the floor beneath those hooks, she saw splashes of fresh blood, which she supposed were left over from the torture sessions she had heard during the night." Sasson's graceful handling of such stomach-turning material, including an overview of Iraq's political and social turmoil, is a tribute to her friend, who escaped to Jordan with her children soon after her release from prison. Although Mayada's story has a happy ending, the unclear fates of her cell mates serve as a painful reminder of how many innocent lives were cut short by Hussein's regime. (On sale Oct. 20) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.