The Desert Flower – A book review

I read this book in the context of my book club. A heart wrenching reading on a phenomenal woman’s story.

I asked Nimo Billow to write the review, because this book touches on her heritage as a young Somali woman and I knew that her authorship would be from a place of knowing, a place of instinctive and empathetic understanding. She honoured us with the below review of the book:

WARIS DIRIE, a name we should all be familiar with. It means Desert Flower and so is the title of her book. A book on courage, strength, resilience, empowerment and Female Genital Mutilationย  (FGM).ย  It is a book that provokes all sorts of emotions (get a tissue, you might cry). A book that shades light on a cultural practice that has robbed women of the very thing that defines their womanhood. A practice that aims at breaking a womanโ€™s spirit in the most intimate way. A practice that is justified by some bogus & inane reasoning that isnโ€™t at all mentioned in the Quran. A practice that to date, affects millions of women around the world. A practice that is inhumane and needs to be abolished. What this book does is explain in depth what FGM is and its everlasting effect.

But itโ€™s not all sad, youโ€™ll find the strength of a woman in this book. A story of a tragic beginning with a beautiful ending. A tale narrated simply and honestly.


The author takes you on a journey from Somalia to UK, vividly describing her experiences of both worlds. One world represents her scar, the other hope. Ideally, home is a place that should represent safety, but what would you call it if it is where your womanhood is ripped off and you become a commodity, an item that is traded for goats and camels? Running away at young age, tracking the desert for days without food or water, facing a lion, escaping what would have resulted into rape, living in a foreign country slaving for your uncles family and not knowing the local language are some of the challenges Waris faced when she decided she wanted a better life than one her parents had chosen for her.

Desert flower

This book described the extra-ordinary life lived by Waris in the most ordinary way. Waris fights to overcome any obstacle that stands in her way. She manages to make a life worth living out of her situation. FGM is a term we hear every now and then but do you know what it truly entails? Do you understand what it does to a woman? The author states, โ€œAll my life Iโ€™ve tried to think ofย  reason for my circumcision. Maybe if I could have thought of a good reason, I could accept what theyโ€™d done to me.โ€ No explanation in the world would come close to justifying this horrific practice.

Reading this book, I thought to myself, would I be able to forgive my parents for subjecting me to this horrific act? Would I go back home, to the very place that destroyed my identity? Would I want to recall the day I lost a part of me on a rock in the middle of the desert? Do I have the strength to tell the world that Iโ€™m not a complete woman? When sexual pleasure is all but a myth to me, what would I do? Well, I do noy know what I cloud have done but Waris, she faced her demons head on and made peace with it. She is an inspiration and a force to be reckoned with.

Despite the challenges she faced, Waris goes on to become a great model, who is respected and adored by the world after she tells her story and now a woman whose name is associated with fighting FGM. A survivor and a spokesperson for millions of women around the world who suffer in silence.



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