Sunday, December 27, 2009

Growing Up Bin Laden by Najwa & Omar bin Laden

This book was interesting. I did not expect that it would be. I learned things I didn't know about Arab culture--hearing from Osama's first wife, Najwa, and Najwa's fourth son, Omar, gave two distinct points of view into an Arab household. More to the point, perhaps, we see into Osama bin Laden's household. At first I was perplexed that a son, an Arab son no less, would discuss internal family affairs so publicly. The more I read, however, the more I understood that Osama bin Laden sacrificed his privacy with his acts of war, and even his family members felt alienated from his peculiar view of the world. His son tells us that he hated his enemies more than he loved his family. It saddens us, for then destruction is his only goal. Osama has given up his life for...not his family, not his country, not his countrymen, but to ruin his enemies. Is there anything more impoverished than that sad fact?

When Osama married the first time, he was a wealthy young man with a bright future. His wife moved to Saudi Arabia from Syria to live in relative comfort with Osama and his extended family in Jeddah. By the end of the story told here, his wife was living in a cave in Afghanistan, suffering untold deprivations. Osama began as a serious young man who sought to raise the approbation Islam received in the world. But he was exceptionally humorless in his approach to life. He expected such seriousness from his growing family of sons that he would not allow them to smile enough to reveal their teeth. " father actually counted the exposed teeth, reprimanding his sons on the number their merriment revealed."

This is a fascinating memoir of unusual candor which deserves to be read widely.


  1. Hi... This is Jean Sasson, the author of the book about Omar and Najwa Bin Laden. I can't tell you how refreshing it is to read your throughful review about this very value book with such insight into Osama's family life. I will admit that so many members of the public have been resistant to the Bin Laden name on the book, but once they get past their feelings of disquiet about Osama, and read the book, most have your reaction. I worked very hard on this this book for 15 months, interviewing and writing and making sure that I remained true to the lives of Najwa & her son Omar and their remembrances of life with Osama. It makes me very happy to run across a reader such as yourself. All best wishes for a wonderful 2010... Jean Sasson

  2. So glad to hear from you, Jean. You did a fabulous job with this book, and deserve much kudos for taking on such a difficult, controversial, and important topic. But it has really enriched my understanding, of Arab family life, the bin Ladens in particular, and simply as a memoir of a particular time and place. Thank you for taking the time. I wish you and your co-authors every success.

  3. Thanks so much! I really appreciate such thoughtful reviews... Have a great day... Jean Sasson