The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism - A Biography by Deborah Baker
Join us for a discussion on The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism, a biography by Deborah Baker. She will be joined in conversation with the renowned historian Shahid Amin.
What drives a young woman raised in a postwar New York City suburb to convert to Islam, abandon her country and Jewish faith, and embrace a life of exile in Pakistan? The Convert tells the story of how Margaret Marcus of Larchmont became Maryam Jameelah of Lahore, one of the most trenchant and celebrated voices of Islam's argument with the West. A cache of Maryam's letters to her parents in the archives of the New York Public Library sends acclaimed biographer Deborah Baker on her own odyssey into the labyrinthine heart of 20th century Islam. Casting a shadow over these letters is the enigmatic figure of Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi, both Maryam's adoptive father and mentor, and the man who laid the intellectual foundations for militant political Islam.
Some of the questions Baker raises as she attempts to understand Maryam’s journey are, how did the Cold War devolve into the war on terror? Is the argument between Islam and the West a metaphysical one or a historical one? Is Maryam's story just another bleak chapter in the so-called clash of civilizations? Or does it signify something else entirely? And then there's this: is the life depicted in Maryam's letters home and in her books an honest reflection of the one she lived?
Deborah Baker has written three books prior to The Convert: Making a Farm: The Life of Robert Bly, In Extremis: The Life of Laura Riding, which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography in 1994, and A Blue Hand: The Beats in India. In 2008-2009, she was a Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis C. Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars at the New York Public Library. There she researched and wrote The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism, drawing on letters on deposit in the library’s manuscript division.
Shahid Amin is Professor of History at the University of Delhi. A founding member of the Subaltern Studies Collective, he has been a Junior Research Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center, Shelby Cullom Davis Center, Princeton University and Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago and Columbia University. Among his publications are Event, Metaphor, Memory: Chauri Chaura, 1922-1992, winner of the 2007 Anand Coomarswamy Prize.
The Asia in Writing series aims to bring together the freshest perspectives from writers across Asia as they engage in dialogue about their recent publications and the art of writing.
Co-sponsored by Project 88