Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World by Shereen El Feki - review by Elif Shafak

Elif Shafak

One Thousand and One Nights

Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World


Chatto & Windus 344pp £14.99

On a Turkish Airlines flight from London to Istanbul my five-year-old son demands to go to the toilet – ‘Now!’ Recognising the urgency in his tone, I spring to my feet and grab him, not realising in my haste that I have left the book I have been reading on an empty seat, face up. There are two Turkish ladies in my row: middle class, middle-aged, similarly attired. Upon returning to our seats I catch them peeking at the cover, whispering and giggling like schoolgirls. When they see me, they blush with guilt but then turn and eye me curiously. Their expressions seem to ask, ‘Are you reading a book on sex? And next to your children? What has this world come to?’ Such is the effect of carrying around Shereen El Feki’s Sex and the Citadel.

For a moment I feel a strong urge to speak with these women, to enquire about their sexual lives, past and present, real and imaginary. I don’t, but the author of Sex and the Citadel has performed this daunting task – raising ‘unabashed’ questions and searching for honest answers, trying

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