The Convert by Deborah Baker
A Tale of Exile and Extremism

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*A 2011 National Book Award Finalist* A spellbinding story of renunciation, conversion, and radicalism from Pulitzer Prize-finalist biographer Deborah Baker 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 the acclaimed biographer Deborah Baker on her own odyssey into the labyrinthine heart of twentieth-century Islam. Casting a shadow over these letters is the mysterious figure of Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi, both Maryam’s adoptive father and the man who laid the intellectual foundations for militant Islam.

As she assembles the pieces of a singularly perplexing life, Baker finds herself captive to questions raised by Maryam’s journey. Is her story just another bleak chapter in a 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? Like many compelling and true tales, The Convert is stranger than fiction. It is a gripping account of a life lived on the radical edge and a profound meditation on the cultural conflicts that frustrate mutual understanding.

About Deborah Baker

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Deborah Baker is the author of In Extremis: The Life of Laura Riding, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, as well as A Blue Hand; The Beats in India. She divides her time between Calcutta, Goa, and Brooklyn.
Published May 10, 2011 by Graywolf Press. 259 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Religion & Spirituality, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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A Pulitzer Prize finalist delves into the fascinating life and letters of a young Jewish woman who converted to radical Islam and moved from suburban New York to Pakistan.

Apr 29 2011 | Read Full Review of The Convert: A Tale of Exile ...

The New York Times

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She also wonders why Jameelah was intent on limiting the role of women to that of wife and mother, a way of life she herself “never managed to live.” (Baker says Jameelah’s children were raised by her husband’s first wife.) Baker’s visit to Lahore to confront Jameelah on such issues ends...

May 20 2011 | Read Full Review of The Convert: A Tale of Exile ...

Publishers Weekly

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Pulitzer finalist Baker (A Blue Hand) unravels the often contradictory life of an American woman who became one of the pre-eminent voices of Islamic revivalism, in this stellar biography that doubles as a mediation on the fraught relationship between America and the Muslim world.

Feb 21 2011 | Read Full Review of The Convert: A Tale of Exile ...

Christian Science Monitor

Biographer Deborah Baker was “on the prowl” in the New York Public Library – not looking for anything in particular.

Apr 28 2011 | Read Full Review of The Convert: A Tale of Exile ...

Dallas News

Let’s start with the fact that The Convert is a fascinating book, one that takes the reader on unexpected twists and turns through the life of one of radical Islam’s most widely read polemicists, Maryam Jameela, an American convert who moved permanently to Pakistan, as well as that of Mawlana Abu...

Aug 05 2011 | Read Full Review of The Convert: A Tale of Exile ...

Chicago Tribune

As Baker delves deeper into Jameelah's archives and her "Quest for the Truth: Memoirs of Childhood and Youth in America (1945–1962): The Story of One Western Convert," she finds a narrative that provides clues to what led Jameelah to cross continents, what went wrong once she had done so, a...

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Portland Book Review

In her latest work titled The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism, Baker weaves Margaret’s letters with her own subsequent research, and emerges with a story that offers an empathetic and insightful look at the epic clash of Islam with the West.

Mar 26 2012 | Read Full Review of The Convert: A Tale of Exile ...

Chamber Four

Deborah Baker’s The Convert is billed as a biography of Margaret Marcus, an American Jewish woman who became an influential voice in the radicalization of Islam and fueled the modern understanding of Jihad.

Jun 28 2011 | Read Full Review of The Convert: A Tale of Exile ...

Book Forum

Such is the case with The Convert, Deborah Baker's portrait of Maryam Jameelah, a woman who rejected life in America to embrace Islam in Pakistan in the 1960s.

May 23 2011 | Read Full Review of The Convert: A Tale of Exile ...

From opposite sides of the world and wildly divergent cultures, two people somehow find each other, bedevil each other and ultimately support each other’s influential, seminal ideas on Islamic extremism — cementing, as one scholar writes, the global cultural divide between Islam and the West.

May 18 2011 | Read Full Review of The Convert: A Tale of Exile ...

Fred Beauford

Baker traveled to Pakistan where she interviewed Mawdudi son, Haider Farooq, and Maryam herself: “I followed Maryam Jameelah up a narrow cement staircase to the second floor, my attention fixed on the hiss made by her cheap sandals every time her foot hit the stairs.

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