All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Last Girl by Nadia Murad

on November 27, 2017

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against The Islamic State
Nadia Murad
Virago Press
2017, 306p
Copy courtesy of Hachette AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

In this intimate memoir of survival, a former captive of the Islamic State tells her harrowing and ultimately inspiring story.

Nadia Murad was born and raised in Kocho, a small village of farmers and shepherds in Northern Iraq. A member of the Yazidi community, she and her brothers and sisters lived a quiet life. Nadia had dreams of becoming a history teacher or opening her own beauty salon.

On 15th August 2014, when Nadia was just 21 years old, this life ended. Islamic State militants massacred the people of her village, executing men who refused to convert to Islam and women too old to become sex slaves. Six of Nadia’s brothers were killed, and her mother soon after, their bodies swept into mass graves. Nadia was taken to Mosul and forced, along with thousands of other Yazidi girls, into the ISIS slave trade.

Nadia was held captive by several militants and repeatedly raped and beaten. Finally, she managed a narrow escape through the streets of Mosul, finding shelter in the home of a Sunni Muslim family whose eldest son risked his life to smuggle her to safety.

Today, Nadia’s story – as a witness to the Islamic State’s brutality, a survivor or rape, a refugee, a Yazidi – has forced the world to pay attention to the ongoing genocide in Iraq. It is a call to action, a testament to the human will to survive and a love letter to a lost country, fragile community and a family torn apart by war.

I’ve read a couple of really interesting memoirs from war torn regions recently, mostly centering around Middle Eastern countries but I would say that this one would be by far the most harrowing of them all. Nadia was born and raised in northern Iraq in a small village named Kocho where the population identified as Kurds rather than Iraqi. They spoke a different language among themselves and are of the Yazidi religion rather than being Muslim. Kurds are mostly gathered in an autonomous region in Iraq known as Iraqi Kurdistan but they also populate parts of surrounding countries such as Turkey. A large population has also developed in Germany when the country accepted many refugees.

In 2014, the Kurdish peshmerga which is the military of Iraqi Kurdistan, were defeated by ISIS and the terrorist organisation swept in and decimated local villages. They recruited boys young enough to radicalize to their cause to fight for them, brutally executed men and elders who wouldn’t convert to Islam and rounded up all the girls as sex slaves. Part of the ISIS ‘accords’ as such means that they do not see those from other religions such as Yazidi as even people and therefore, rape is allowed as an act of war. Sex slaves are almost like a reward for services rendered to the regime. Nadia was taken as one of these women to be a slave to ISIS militants.

Nadia witnesses and experiences some truly horrific things. They hear the gunshots that kill her brothers, possibly also her mother. She and her sisters, cousins, sisters-in-law etc are bundled into buses and taken to Mosul where they are basically offered up to ISIS soldiers of rank. It takes Nadia a while to understand what her future will be – she complains when a guard on the bus touches her inappropriately only to laughed at. She is no longer a person, she will just be a thing for them to use as they see fit and pass around when they grow tired of her.

I am so far removed from this sort of life, it’s ridiculous. It is a harsh reality to read Nadia’s story and realise that things like this are still going on in the world and people are treated in such ways. Whole villages herded into a building and ruthlessly executed or rounded up for agendas. It’s a genocide of the Yazidi people, an attempt to wipe them out of Iraq either by murder to by forced conversion to Islam. Despite her forced conversion to Islam and the systematic attempt to wipe out her people, Nadia never forgets her Yazidi heritage, even when she’s terrified to let it show after her escape from her captives and her journey from Mosul into Iraqi Kurdistan. She’s also so terrified that what she’s experienced will change the way she’s seen by her people (the Yazidi are a conservative people, sex before marriage isn’t accepted, and even though Nadia’s experiences were with violence and force, she’s still reluctant to talk about it, lest it diminish her).

Despite the brutality of this book, there is hope in it too. After her captor leaves her alone in a house, Nadia escapes. By sheer chance she chooses the right door to knock on – a kind Sunni family who are not a part of the ISIS regime and are willing to help her escape, rather than just return her. They risk their lives, their safety in doing so and their gentle and compassionate actions are a truly bright spot in this dark story. They keep her hidden while they make arrangements to get her into Iraqi Kurdistan so that she might reunite with a brother who went there before the massacre of her village. After Nadia arrives in Iraqi Kurdistan, she discovers an operation that seeks to rescue Yazidi girls from captivity and slowly, a few familiar faces make their ways to the refugee camp. There are stories of tragedy as well, those that don’t make it back to the remnants of their family and safety.

Nadia has such a strength and determination to not only survive, but escape. She doesn’t accept her fate and she takes brave steps in a strange and hostile place in order to desperately try and get away, even though she knows that the odds were probably in her favour to be returned and beaten by her captors. She was lucky that her strength and determination and luck played out that she met a family who risked so much to help her but it was absolutely crucial that she take those huge risks herself as well. Since her escape, Nadia has told her story many times, including in front of the UN. She was named a Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking and now works with Yazda: Global Yazidi Organisation helping to bring recognition to the genocide of the Yazidi people and also work to reunite Yazidi people taken by ISIS back with surviving family or community members as well as providing aid, information and support to the Yazidi people.

I read this book because I want to educate myself on these stories, these events that take place in the world from the point of view of those that experience it. It’s not an easy story to read in terms of it being such distressing subject matter and there’s such a large feeling of unfairness that hangs over the entire thing. Nadia should’ve enjoyed a life in her village with her family, living her dream of becoming a teacher or whatever it was that she wanted to do, getting married and having a family if she so chose, safe in the place she’d grown up. But she may never be able to permanently return to her village and her role in life is different now. She speaks for others and her story has definitely led me to read more about the Yazidi people as well as the genocide. I recommend this to everyone, these stories need to be known.


Book #190 of 2017


4 responses to “Review: The Last Girl by Nadia Murad

  1. Your rating definitely matches the review. Sounds very interesting.

  2. […] The Last Girl by Nadia Murad. A memoir of a Yazidi woman who saw her whole village in northern Iraq invaded by ISIS, the men killed, boys taken as recruits, young women kidnapped and forced to be sex slaves for soldiers. Very powerful. […]

  3. annelogan17 says:

    I really liked this book too-as much as you can like a book that deals with such horrific and unfair things! Great review.

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