This is the autobiography of Noor Al Hussein, Queen of Jordan. Queen Noor grew up as Lisa Halaby, a daughter in a prominent American family. Her father was first the head of the FAA under J. F. Kennedy and later a senior officer in Pan-American Airways. Lisa Halaby was one of the first women to attend Princeton during the tumultuous Vietnam era and graduated with a degree in urban planning. Her interest in her Arab background led her first to accept a position in Iran and later in Jordan. Through her father she met the recently widowed King Hussein of Jordan. After a short romance, she accepted his marriage proposal and in doing so became Noor Al Hussein, Queen of Jordan. It was a 'Leap of Faith' that led to 'an Unexpected Life'. After reading this book I was filled for admiration for this woman. It also made me question my perceptions of Arabs and Islam. In addition, I have a new appreciation of the complexities of American, Jewish, and Arab relationships and an increased awareness and interest in Jordan and Palestine.
This is a story of love and devotion, faith, commitment, transformation and personal growth. It is also a unique perspective of troubled Palestine. Queen Noor's love and devotion to her husband are apparent from the very beginning of the story. In the early part of the book I was particularly touched when she mentioned that very soon after the beginning of her marriage, she, like the rest of the royal family, would discretely position herself as human shield to protect the king when they were in public. At the end of the book her unfailing devotion as he lost his battle with cancer was inspiring. I remember hearing in the news of how she arranged for his return to die in Jordan and how she never left his side during the last days. The night before the funeral she slept on a couch next to the casket in the drawing room.
Queen Noor was King Hussein's fourth wife. When she married him, he had eight children and an adopted daughter. Three of his children were very young when they married, and she became their mother. Together they had four children. It must have been a challenge to be the matriarch of such a large family, especially at only 26, but she grew into her new role. The closeness and emphasis on family is an integral part of the Arab culture and somewhat alien to ours, which focuses so much more on the individual. Having lived in an Islamic country (Indonesia) for seven years myself, I admire her very much. Even as an observer, I found these large family gatherings cumbersome. The needs of the group overshadow those of the individual.
On her wedding day, Queen Noor committed to Islam with only her husband to witness her commitment. I was intrigued by her presentation of this faith. She embraced Islam completely and saw it as a source of strength. My experience of Islam is that is abusive of women, giving all power to the dominant male. Queen Noor presents this religion as uplifting and spiritual. She also presents it as simple and direct without the liturgy and complications which are a part of many Christian traditions. This again stood in contrast with my own experience. For me, the screeching calls for prayer, which are omnipresent in a Muslim country, are invasive and coercive. Queen Noor presents the Arab culture as generous and hospitable. Especially in this era of Muslim terrorists, this stands in stark contrast to my own perception of this religion and culture. Clearly, there is a lot I do not know and understand.
Queen Noor loves Jordan and its people and is committed to them. Because of her American upbringing and contacts she was able solicit international aid to bring relief to the refugee camps, create opportunities for local artisans, protect the unique natural and cultural treasures of this country. In addition to being a wife, a mother and a Queen to Jordan, she found a way to make things better in a country and a culture in which women are generally without a face. Jordan is a better place for many people because of this woman who was raised in a culture which today is despised by many Arabs. She talks about the frustrations of the Arabs and the Palestinians with the various American policies. She offers a very different perspective on Israel. I learned a lot about the troubles of Palestine through this book. Certainly one of her greatest gifts to her husband and king was her complete commitment to his Arab cause and peace in the Arab world. I was pleased to read that the King acknowledged her contribution and commitment to himself and the country when he announced the change in succession to the throne.
King Hussein died of cancer in 1998 shortly after their 20th wedding anniversary. At 46, Queen Noor was a widow. Writing this well documented, interesting, and personal memoir is a continuing tribute not only to her, but also to the King, the family and country she loves so much. Her closing quote sums up her past, her future and her faith: "I will not fail you, my love. I will continue on the path we shared, and I know you will be there to help me, as you always were. And when we meet again at the journey's end, and we laugh together once more, I will have a thousand things to tell you."
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