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(UK: Virago, @ViragoBooks, 2001; USA: William Morrow Paperbacks, @HarperCollins, 2011)
Waris Dirie (the name means ‘desert flower’) lives a double life – by day she is a famous model and UN spokeswoman on women’s rights in Africa; at night she dreams of her native Somalia.
One of 12 children, Waris was born into a traditional family of desert nomads in East Africa. She remembers her early childhood as carefree – racing camels and moving on with her family to the next grazing spot – until it came her turn to meet the old woman who administered the ancient custom imposed on most Somalian girls: circumcision. Waris suffered this torture when she was just five years old. Then, aged 12, when her father attempted to arrange a marriage with a 60-year-old stranger in exchange for five camels – she took flight.
After an extraordinary escape through the dangerous desert she made her way to London and worked as a maid for the Somalian ambassador until that family returned home. Penniless and speaking little English, she became a janitor in McDonalds where she was famously discovered by a fashion photographer. Her story is a truly inspirational and extraordinary self-portrait of a remarkable woman whose spirit is as breathtaking as her beauty.
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Ayann Hirsi Ali