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Desert Flower [Paperback]

Waris Dirie
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
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Book Description

18 Jan 2001
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. Waris, one of 12 children, 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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Desert Flower + Desert Dawn + Aman: Story of a Somali Girl
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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Virago; New Ed edition (18 Jan 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860497586
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860497582
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.7 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 59,108 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Waris Dirie's story puts "rags to riches" to shame. The "Desert Flower" started life as one of 12 children of a Somali nomad family, a people with no written culture, where the basic unit of currency is the camel. Faced at 12 with the prospect of marriage to a 60-year-old man she didn't know, she broke all the rules and ran away, surviving a traumatic trek across the desert to end up in London, as a maid to the Somalian Ambassador. It was in McDonalds that her striking beauty was "discovered", leading to a career in modelling and another as an ardent campaigner against female genital mutilation (circumcision).

As a novel it would be unbelievable, as Waris survives circumcision, rape, arranged marriage, a lion attack--you name it, she's lived through it. But the book is remarkable less for its deliberately dramatic set pieces, and more for its haunting evocation of the little-told life of Somalian nomads, seen from a child's telling perspective, where life centres on the beloved camels, the horrors of womanhood are still an exciting mystery, and the nights are filled with the smell of frankincense. Desert Flower is a recollection of such gentle beauty that "rags to riches" seems hardly appropriate.--Alan Stewart --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Waris's story is one of remarkable courage. From the deserts of Somalia to the world of high fashion ... she emerges a real champion. She is the most beautiful inspiration to anyone (ELTON JOHN)

A story that traverses continents, spans worlds of human experience and human pain ... Waris Dirie was a victim once, but she never will be again (EXPRESS)

She was circumcised at five, fled an arranged marriage at 12, then became a Pirelli girl in her teens. Now, at twenty-eight, Waris Dirie is an ambassador for the UN. Her mission? To rid Africa of its most barbaric ritual (OBSERVER)

Dirie's story is an extraordinary one. (SUNDAY TIMES)

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An incredible story 7 Jan 2004
This was an amazing story of courage in the face of adversity. Reading about the hardships Waris has been through had me in tears but she is an inspiration to all women.
Eveyone should read a book like this, it makes you realise how lucky you are and apreciate what you have got.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This Book Has An Important Message 10 Nov 2002
I don't think it matters that this book is not "world-class" literature.
Waris Dirie has a wonderful story, full of hardship, striving, and pain. But due to her continual striving, she has made a success of her life, in spite of the odds.
Her experiences meant something to me. One of the most vivid was the description of her circumcision in the bush.
This is an inspiring book, showing what can be accomplished with fortitude and a positive attitude.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Never forgotton once read 2 April 2001
By A Customer
This is one of the most amazing books I have ever read. It was sad, funny, exciting and above all inspirational. This lady is courageous, fiesty and no matter how bad her life got she retained a sense of humour throughout. I couldn't compare this book to any other as her life story is unique. No matter what type of book you are used to reading, this one will never be forgotton once devoured.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stop being ignorant - read this book 29 Dec 2004
By A Customer
I think all women should read this book. Stop worrying about what make-up goes on your face day to day and do something positive by educating yourself on the plight of over 130 million women world-wide who are subjected to FGM.
The story in this book amazed me, upset me but mostly inspired me.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best Books I've Ever Read! 9 Nov 2004
By A Customer
I loved this book! I was given an option to read any cultural book in my class and my teacher had shown us this and talked about it briefly. When I went to pick a book, this one stuck in my head and I'm glad it did. The things she has endured are incredible. I really liked how powerful she was and how hard she worked to get what she wanted. It's amazing how far she has come and is now fighting to help those young girls that she used to be like. I'm glad someone is fighting against FGM because when I heard about it I was terribly shocked and confused about why people would actually do this. This was one of the best books I've read and I would definitely recommend it to anyone. It truly is a blessing that someone has gone through this and leads such a successful life as hers.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I read this book in a day and a half !!!!!!! 13 Aug 2001
By A Customer
What a fantastic book .... I can't believe what Waris went through to get where she is today, and grateful to her for being able to talk out about this subject!! Everybody needs to be educated in the plight of these women.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable life of an incredible lady 14 Jun 2010
The great strength of this fascinating autobiography is the enormous juxtaposition between Waris Dirie's childhood and her later life. Surely few - if any - other people have undergone such a dramatic change in their culture and lifestyle in such a short space of time. From herding livestock as part of a nomadic community in the remote Somalian wilderness to strutting on the catwalks of Milan, London and New York in just a few short years. The journey from one way of life to the other was certainly not smooth, relied on plenty of luck and trusting to fate and was spurred by the prospect of forced marriage to an elderly man when she was just 13.

The most disturbing part of the story is Waris' circumcision (or, female genital mutilation) and the particularly harsh and painful manner in which she underwent the procedure. It's something that becomes a theme throughout the book as she reflects on it throughout her adult life with sadness and - particularly - bitterness at how it has denied her of her right to happiness in such a profound manner.

I have no interest in the lifestyle of a model per se, but this is a fascinating account of a girl who seized the initiative to change her life in a way beyond the wildest imaginings of most people.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book and think about it 2 July 2007
I might have seen Waris Dirie in many magazines over the years, advertising make-up or clothes, a stunning supermodel. Flicking through those pages without a second thought, really shows how many times we can be fooled by appearances. There's a story beyond any of us and who would have thought that that lovely, proud African lady had such an incredible, painful one to recount.

This is a difficult book to read, not because of its prose, but for its contents, especially the ones related to the female genital circumcision. What Waris had to endure and her accomplishments in life later on, after her escape from native Somalia, are something quite amazing. She is currently an Ambassador for the UN, focusing on the fight against FGC in Africa and in the Western World.

This is a book that will often make you stare into space, trying to come to terms with the reality that Waris describes. It is not, however, written in hatred or spite. The love for her native country and for her family is there, so strong, despite everything. This book is an eye-opener and an educational one, as well as an autobiography.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars desert flower
Thought provoking ,issues around fgm quite horrific but written sensitively. Also enjoyed descriptions of the land and culture. An excellent read.
Published 24 days ago by Mrs. L. A. Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book
Read it within 2 days. Could not put the book down - it was that good. Would recommend to all.
Published 1 month ago by Ashlee Delahunty
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing
Amazing book. Could not stop reading. So real and simply written. I cried few times this women has gone through a lot
Published 2 months ago by agnieszka
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading
A book not only to touch the heart, but one that should make us all want to take a stand to stop this cruel practise. Read more
Published 2 months ago by TR
3.0 out of 5 stars read this again
Read this again!!
Good book second time I have read it
Still a good read recommend it to others ,
Published 2 months ago by Peg leg Sue
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring life story...
Beautifully written descriptive story, totally inspiring, amazing woman surviving such horrors and achieving so much more than most....a definite on your book list..... Read more
Published 2 months ago by kay barber
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking
An example of courage that will make you cry and laugh. A story of two worlds linked by one woman. Simply amazing.
Published 2 months ago by mon
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and at times sickening
would recommend to anyone who wants to feel outraged and empowered all at the very same time. excellent read - extraordinary woman.
Published 2 months ago by Raych1123
5.0 out of 5 stars Love it
I could not stop reading. Amazing life story, if you like biographies buy it. Also a very close subject to my heart just beacuse I am a woman.
Published 3 months ago by maria
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly remarkable story an absolute must for all women. Be prepared...
I couldn't put this book down and finished in in 2 days. A story that will reduce even the hard hearted to tears. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Bevkayc
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