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Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam
by Zainab Salbi, Laurie Becklund

Published: 2006-08-17
Paperback : 304 pages
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Zainab Salbi was eleven years old when her father was chosen to be Saddam Hussein's personal pilot and her family's life was grafted onto his. Her mother, the beautiful Alia, taught her daughter the skills she needed to survive. A plastic smile. Saying yes. Burying in boxes in her mind ...
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Zainab Salbi was eleven years old when her father was chosen to be Saddam Hussein's personal pilot and her family's life was grafted onto his. Her mother, the beautiful Alia, taught her daughter the skills she needed to survive. A plastic smile. Saying yes. Burying in boxes in her mind the horrors she glimpsed around her. "Learn to erase your memories," she instructed. "He can read eyes."

In this richly visual memoir, Salbi describes tyranny as she saw it - through the eyes of a privileged child, a rebellious teenager, a violated wife, and ultimately a public figure fighting to overcome the skill that once kept her alive: silence.

Between Two Worlds is a riveting quest for truth that deepens our understanding of the universal themes of power, fear, sexual subjugation, and the question one generation asks the one before it: How could you have let this happen to us?

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Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

1. The title, Between Two Worlds, can be interpreted in a number of ways. How does it reflect the central themes of Zainab Salbi’s memoir?

2. Between Two Worlds begins with a description of the Abbisid coin, Zainab Salbi’s mother, Alia, wore around her neck. Why is the coin so important to Salbi and what role does it play in the narrative?

3. By writing this memoir, Between Two Worlds, what is Zainab Salbi able to do for the very first time?

4. How was the generation of Alia different from women of the previous generation in Iraq?

5. Describe the lives of Zainab Salbi and her family prior to Saddam Hussein.

6. When does Zainab Salbi realize that Muslims in Iraq view Shia and Sunni differently? How does this affect her personally?

7. Intercalated between chapters of this memoir are excerpts from Alia’s notebook. What do these entries reveal about Salbi’s parents’ friendship with Hussein? A portrait of Saddam Hussein emerges. What kind of ruler/man was he?

8. “There are probably four recurring themes in my life—women, war, family and religion.” Examine each of these themes and how they relate to Between Two Worlds.

9. What did Zanaib Salbi learn about men and women through her mother who “spun utopian fantasies” and her grandmother, Bibi, “who favored fables from 1001 Arabian Nights”? How were Bibi and Alia’s lives different?

10. Zainab Salbi’s mother was a remarkable woman. What qualities did she possess?

11. How does Salbi first perceive the war with Iran?

12. With Mohammed, Salbi experiences for the first time prejudice against Shias. Prejudice against Shias later intensifies when Iraq goes to war with Iran. “Because our enemy’s government was run by Shia clerics, all things Shia began to feel suspect.” How does Salbi experience this personally?

13. Alia is at risk of being deported. Only with Saddam Hussein’s intervention and the creation of a “special file” is she able to escape deportation. Why was Alia at risk of deportation and what do these new laws reveal about Hussein’s government?

14. How does Saddam Hussein’s regime create divisions in Salbi’s family?

15. When did Salbi realize that Saddam Hussein was a murderer?

16. How does Salbi explain her parents’ decision to stay in Iraq?

17. How do Alia and her husband change during Hussein’s regime?

18. Why was it so hard for Salbi to find her own identity?

19. What did Ehab introduce to Salbi?

20. Chapter Six is entitled Boxes. How does this title relate to the chapter and the novel?

21. Why does Salbi break up with Ehab? What does she realize?

22. How does Salbi react to the Gulf War?
23. How did meeting Amjad change Salbi’s perspective on Iraq and Iran?

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Member Reviews

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by Tami B. (see profile) 11/09/21

by Margaret C. (see profile) 04/03/19

  "Fascinating and informative."by Janet L. (see profile) 04/25/09

We were so glad to understand more about the Iraq people and how they were forced to accept living where everyone is suspicious of everyone else. The author has become an activist is helping rape victims... (read more)

  "Incredible perspective of life in Saddam's circle."by Kathryn D. (see profile) 08/14/08

What do people do to survive when they're under the control of a mad man? Why didn't they simply walk away? They knew what would happen to the family members they left behind.

  "Changed my perception of the Iraqi people"by Susan R. (see profile) 06/18/07

A heartbreaking, honest account of Saddaam's hold on the Iraqi people told from an insider's perspective. Zainab is an incredible woman who has overcome oppression to help others. Her acco... (read more)

  "Zainab Salbi had difficulty revealing her "life in Saddam's world" to, not only the world, but to herself. Her conflicts were not only with Saddam's world but with the manner in which her parents met"by Patricia M. (see profile) 03/19/07

Salbi expertly weaves Saddam's influence on the lives of her family and friends into the documentation of his Reign of Terror on her beloved country. The book is a definite page-turner and the reader comes... (read more)

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