Title: The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against the Islamic State
Author: Nadia Murad, Jenna Krajeski
If a book were like a home reflecting a tragedy that befell its inhabitants, The Last Girl would be like a universe teetering on the edge of collapse. The extermination of Yazidis — a religious minority group settled in the village of Kocho in western Iraq, 2014 — comprises the greater chunk of this agonising universe. The Islamic State, shortly after taking over Mosul in the summer of 2014, captured Kocho — rounding up and slaughtering hundreds of Yazidi men and elderly women for refusing to convert to Islam, brainwashing young boys and recruiting them into their militia, carting off young women like cattle and deploying sexual slavery as an orchestrated combat tool against them. Nadia Murad — the Yazidi author and Nobel Peace Prize winner — was one among the hundreds of women who were driven off in droves to Mosul and Syria, repeatedly raped, beaten up and sold off or exchanged between militants.
Murad’s writing cuts through one’s cultural conditioning, no matter how tough you think you are. Barely four pages into the novel, she sets the tone of the narrative by penning the most poignant lines I have read in a while: “I think of my religion as being an ancient tree with thousands of rings, each telling a story in the long history of Yazidis. Many of those stories, sadly, are tragedies.”
Yazidis have been persecuted for centuries by groups — from Ottomans to Saddam’s Ba’athists — who looked at Yazidism, which is a monotheistic religion having elements in common with the many religions of the Middle East, with disdain. They demanded that the Yazidis renounce their faith and pledge loyalty to them. While Kocho experienced a short spell of relief as Saddam’s regime was dismantled in 2003, it witnessed a relapse a few years later with the rise of the Islamic State. Murad takes her time to get on to the horrors she witnessed and experienced, writing moving accounts of her mother who sustained her humour even in such times of adversity, her sister with whom she shared a fondness for make-up and dresses, and the village she took unflinching pride in, despite the misfortunes it suffered. Murad incorporates too many moods into the narrative — rage, despair, nostalgia and dignity — in equal measure.
The second part of the book is reserved for much of Murad’s helplessness and ire at the captivities and abuse. Yazidi girls were considered infidels, and according to the militants’ interpretation of the Koran, raping an infidel/slave was not a sin. Violence against women has added its own brand of shame to wars, wherein rape is seen by attackers as a way to perpetuate gendered control. There is a very fine bit where Murad tells us how one of her rapists took off his glasses and placed them carefully on the table before raping her. How he had been so gentle with the glasses, and so vicious with her, a person. There is nothing sadder than hearing a woman who has begun to look at her rape as a daily chore, a gruesome tradition which she describes as “the same every day, except for small few differences between the men who did it”.
The Last Girl is achingly powerful. And Murad, despite being at the receiving end of such barbarism, talks of her abuse with tenderness and innocence. There are sporadic references to how the Yazidi women’s lives were wrenched from that of human beings to sabbaya (captive women), and, how days were spent wondering if the ISIS would pity them.
In the third and final part of the book, Murad directs her wrath at the Arab Sunnis, who remained mute spectators to the Yazidi massacre while themselves leading normal lives in the other cities of Iraq. The irony becomes a little sharp, for it is an Arab Sunni family that eventually comes to her rescue — at tremendous risk to themselves. Murad ends her memoir saying “I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like this”, which poses a prickling question — in a macabre scheme of power dynamics and political play, is there a way to keep her wish?