In this compelling memoir, Fauziya Kassindja recounts her journey from favorite daughter of a wealthy West African businessman to prisoner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services, all before her 20th birthday.
In 1994, after seeking asylum in the U.S. to escape female genital mutilation, a traditional ritual in her society, Kassindja wound up instead in a 16-month-long Kafkaesque nightmare: caught in an Elizabeth, N.J., detention-center riot, put in a prison cell with a murderer, forced into solitary confinement for 19 days after a misdiagnosis of TB. Meanwhile her eyesight was failing, and she developed a peptic ulcer that went untreated until her release. Fortunately for Kassindja, her plight—and the prospect of her deportation back to an arranged marriage in Togo—caught the attention of a handful of law students, legal scholars and advocates. Their dedication and ability to generate nationwide publicity helped Kassindja win her case, which in 1996 set a precedent for women seeking asylum on grounds of gender-based persecution.
Layli Miller Bashir—a second-year law student when she got involved in the case in 1995—was a dedicated member of Kassindja's legal team, but she was less helpful as a cowriter; the many repetitions and unnecessary details are irritating. But whether you slog through or skim, it's hard not to be charmed by Kassindja and moved by her story. (Delacorte, $24.95)