Book Review

'My Accidental Jihad': A candid love story of a mixed marriage

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When most Americans hear the word “jihad,” they typically think of war, of terrorism and of extremists flying planes into buildings. In reality, a jihad is a struggle for spiritual and intellectual growth in the Islamic faith.

In Krista Bremer’s unapologetically candid memoir “My Accidental Jihad,” the author chronicles her joys and struggles as she attempts to find understanding within her intercultural, interracial and interfaith marriage.

By Krista Bremer
Algonquin Books ($24.95)

“My Accidental Jihad” is first and foremost a love story but one without vampires, love triangles or the typical stuff of romantic comedies. It begins with a younger Ms. Bremer’s quest to find direction in her life.

It is a time when the young surfer girl trades the sandy beaches of California for the humidity of North Carolina to study journalism. While trying to find a career, Ms. Bremer unexpectedly finds a man named Ismail.

Older, browner and more devout than the ideal partner she’d had in her head at the time, the future author commenced a relationship with him.

“My Accidental Jihad” is a story of two individuals coming from two very different worlds. Ms. Bremer a self-proclaimed “part-time Buddhist” hailing from a world of “Free To Be You and Me Feminism.” She prized her personal space.

Ismail comes from Libya and was raised in a large family in a country ruled by a dictator. Only seven of his 12 siblings survived to adulthood. Ismail got his first job at 5 years old.

As different as they are, their worlds become intertwined when she becomes unexpectedly pregnant early in their relationship.

Some authors of autobiographies have a tendency to Photoshop out unpleasant facts in an attempt to portray the best image of themselves possible. Ms. Bremer does not do this. She’s honest about her struggles with the decision about whether to go through with a pregnancy that would have been longer than her relationship with the baby’s father.

Unlike the movie version of marriage, she’s equally honest about the joys and difficulties that take place throughout the course of her marriage.

Their first wedding took place at a courthouse out of sheer practicality. It was different from the one she’d planned in her head as a child. She notes his incomprehension about the commercialism that accompanies Christmas. She is frustrated with the sacrifices that went along with her husband observing Ramadan.

She also disliked his homeland. They both wanted to share their respective cultures with their children. Consequently, they had to create a middle ground between America and Libya to accommodate their growing family.

“My Accidental Jihad” is a story about love, marriage, compromise, parenthood and the difference between the life one imagined and reality. American readers will derive much needed insight into the daily reality of Muslim life in contrast to the violent tropes often seen in the media.

From complex moments such as Ms. Bremer coming to terms with the fact that her daughter might not opt for her secular, American worldview to the joyous celebration of Ms. Bremer and Ismail’s second wedding, “My Accidental Jihad” is about the beauty of small moments revealed in attending a concert with their daughter.

Readers will be captivated by the book’s love story while empathizing with Ms. Bremer throughout her journey. This is a memoir worth reading.

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a freelance writer.

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