LEAP OF FAITH:
Miramax Books, 2003
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding
The memoirs of Queen Noor relate the personal transformation of shy, but independent-minded Lisa Halaby into the regal, self possessed, and influential Queen Noor. I have long been intrigued by the life she has led and the choices she has made. LEAP OF FAITH represents her personal account of her early courtship and marriage within the Jordanian royal family, in addition to her political and cultural observations of the Middle East.
She shares many personal anecdotes of her days as a young bride; adjusting to life in the royal household, the lack of privacy, and the temperament of her husband. Queen Noor clearly adored her husband, and her descriptions of the private verses the public faces of King Hussein are fascinating.
This is not a history book. She does not address many of the more unsavory aspects and lightly glosses over the hot topics of the Middle East. Her direct encounters with other heads of state, like Saddam Hussein, Yassar Arafat, The Shah of Iran, The Sultan of Brunei, and many others are all reported from social occasions and she is very diplomatic in all her remarks. Her strongest criticism of Saddam Hussein was that he fostered an atmosphere of hero-worship towards himself in Iraq rather than encouraging his countrymen towards patriotic loyalty to their homeland.
Queen Noor articulates the Arab views on Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands as forcing the Palestinian people to give up land to accommodate the European anti-Semitic solution for removing Jews from Europe. Though she claims not to speak from any official state platform, her examination of the Arab-Israeli conflict is worth reading for those who are genuinely interested in understanding the Arab perspective.
Particularly interesting is the recounting of her loss of naiveté concerning the land of her birth. She saw first hand the enormous power America can bring to bear on countries to influence them in the direction the U.S. would like them to go. I had to remind myself, these are her views, but I found them enlightening. She shares her personal experiences concerning the effects of the Gulf War, which were devastating to Jordan and a dark period for the Jordanian royal family. I was deeply moved when she told of sending her young children out of harm's way with her sister, Alexa, and giving each child a cherished memento as she left them to return to Jordan. One bright spot in this bleak period of the Gulf War came from the influx of expatriates and refugees from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Prince Abdullah, King Hussein's oldest son, met and married Rania, of the Al Yasin family.
The most heartwarming stories deal with the births of her children, family traditions, and her efforts to bond with her step-children. I was captivated by the exotic descriptions of one of King Hussein's birthday parties on the Wadi Rum desert. Joined by Bedouin tribesmen drawn by the campfire, the King and his sons celebrated, singing and dancing the traditional debkah dance. She also addresses some of the more difficult times in her marriage to King Hussein, his rumored affairs, his depression and illnesses. The most profoundly moving account brought tears to my eyes. Upon King Hussein's death his sons prepared his body for burial with a ritual washing in the kitchen of their home, and wrapped him in the seamless white robe he had worn on his pilgrimages to Mecca. In many ways the book is a tribute to her husband, King Hussein, portraying him through her own eyes. Overall the writing is a careful, thoughtful expression of her life. This is no tell-all book -- it left something to be desired. I came away feeling she revealed only what she wanted you to see. Perhaps that's intentional – always leave them wanting more.
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