Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Girl With Three Legs by Soraya Mire

The Girl With Three Legs is a brutally honest memoir about the horror that is female genital mutilation (FGM).  At age thirteen, Soraya starts being teased by her friends for having 'three legs'.  When she goes to ask her mother what the nickname means, her mother tells her that she is going to receive a 'gift'.  Soraya's flesh is cut off (she describes hearing the sound of the scissors cutting her) and sewn up, leaving her with an opening just the size of a cotton bud/Q-tip.  The memoir describes frankly the medical problems that this caused and the long recovery period Soraya faced when she moved away from Somalia to Europe.  It also covers Mire's later career as an activist, campaigning for the end of FGM.

The Girl With Three Legs is a very successful memoir in that it shines a light on an issue that is important and could do with more attention.  The scenes where Soraya is mutilated and when she faces pain and complications afterwards are graphic and I found myself wincing in horror.  Mire also successfully shows how ingrained the attitudes leading to FGM are in the certain cultures and how it is often women doing this to their daughters for fear of their daughters being seen as unclean. When Soraya becomes an activist in her later life, she faces opposition from her native culture and even ostracism from her own family.  

That being said, The Girl With Three Legs isn't the most well-written memoir I have read.  It seems to jump around a lot and in certain places was hard to follow, especially when Mire describes the Somalian culture at the beginning of the book.  There are also sections when Soraya is going through an incredibly tough time after the surgery that are hard to follow; her descriptions blur into each other and it's hard to always know what she is referring to.  The chapters about Soraya becoming an activist could have been edited down a little.

I am glad I read this book.  FGM does occur in Western countries, where immigrants send their daughters back to Somalia or Egypt for the treatment in their school holidays, or even find a private doctor willing to carry it out for them.  The Girl With Three Legs shows why this is always unacceptable, no matter how tolerant of other cultures we want to be.

Verdict: Memoir about an important issue that is hard to follow in places.
Published: 2011
Source: From the publisher via NetGalley
Score: 3 out of 5


  1. This whole procedure is so horrifying it leaves me speechless and furious. The only time I came across FGM was a memoir I read a few years ago about a woman who escaped having it done because her liberal minded father did not believe in it. But when he died she was forced into marrying a man who insisted on it. She left him and went into hiding, eventually fleeing to the U.S. via an underground rescue organization. I wish I could remember the name of the author!

  2. Completely horrifying to me as well. I want to know more about this but I'm not sure this is right book to read? Have you ever read anything else on the subject of FGM?

  3. I'm glad you brought this book to my attention, but I'm not sure I can read it. What a horrible thing. I'd have to be in a certain mood. I'll remember it, though. Thanks.

  4. I think this is something I would like to look into. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  5. My first experience reading about this subject was Alice Walker's Possessing the Secret of Joy. I haven't read on the subject since then, but it's one I'm interested in learning more about. Sorry to hear this memoir wasn't the best written in spots, but it's one I'd be interested in trying.

    Thanks for sharing!!! I'm also going to share your link on my Linkapalooza post today. :)

  6. Trish, I saw a documentary about it once and they actually showed it happening to a young girl. It was horrifying. It seems so unbelievable to us in the West that this would happen.

    Peppermint PhD, I've read Alice Walker's Possessing The Secret of Joy which I thought was OK but this was more powerful. I don't know what the best resource would be.

    Andi, I've read the Walker book too. To be honest I didn't enjoy it that much, not because of the subject matter but because of the way it was written.

  7. I am surprised to hear that even after women have moved to the West, that they still adhere to this practice for their daughters. I guess the cultural traditions run so deep...

    I appreciate your observations about the writing as I have had similar experiences with memoirs where I very much wanted to keep reading because of the story the person was telling, but the format or style sometimes got in the way. I'm wondering if she wrote this on her own, or with a co-author.

  8. Wow! What a powerful topic and emotional book to read. I have never heard of this book- but it is a topic that I have learned a little about. What a sad and traumatic thing for anyone to have to go through. Very scary! This sounds like a book we could all learn a lot from.


  9. TheBookGirl, as far as I know she wrote it on her own. She has also directed a film called Fire Eyes about FGM, I'm hoping to see that at some point. I think we need to be less worried about being culturally sensitive about issues such as this.

    Fairday Morrow, it was emotional to read as the descriptions were so graphic. If the author wanted to raise awareness, I think she has done so through this book.

  10. I think FGM is a horrible, violent oppressive practice. It's awful that it causes such health problems afterwards and I have read that the health issues can be painful, humiliating and cause the women to be ostracized in their own culture. It's inhuman. The fact that some still practice in the West is unconscionable. I know it's a part of some cultures but no matter the culture, in todays day and age such brutal practices should be eradicated. I think any private doctors who perform FGM should be thrown in prison and lose their medical license. It's disgusting.

    It sounds like this is a tough memoir to read because of the subject matter and circumstances surrounding it. It sounds like this book may not have been edited all that well. Your review is great, thank you for posting about this book. I'm not sure I could read it although that feels like a cop out, too.