Girl on Fire

I read a couple books recently from Chicago Review Press that cover human rights issues around the world. Both are inspiring and powerful memoirs by women who have been made the victims of their culture. The first is Blasphemy, a memoir of Asia Bibi. The second is The Girl with Three Legs, written by Soraya Miré about struggling to overcome the horrors of female genital mutilation (FGM), which is a part of a young girl’s rite of passage in her native Somalia.


Miré writes with a lyric vulnerability that is both heartbreaking and incredibly brave. She has always been a firecracker, from her youth in Mogadishu (she was once punished for hiding under a newlywed couple’s bed because she wanted to find out why people said that smoke rises from a bride’s ears) to barricading her bedroom door in order to prevent her husband from consummating their marriage. Her family and her culture did their best to tame her, however.


Her schoolmates would not play with her because she was “unclean.” To be uncut, to still have her “third leg,” is to be considered unclean. Her father, a general under Siad Barre, tried to protect her; many girls have physical issues after FGM. Her mother, however, had other ideas (a girl is not considered fit to be married without this “gift” to her husband). Her mother asked Soraya to accompany her into town when she was thirteen; her mother promised to give her a “gift.”


Most of Miré’s life is spent overcoming the traumatic effects of FGM and an abusive, arranged marriage (Miré didn’t know she was married until she was attending a party that she realized was her wedding party; she was seventeen). She eventually was able to seek treatment for her physical and psychological ailments and began a long, brutal road to healing. Part of that healing involved moving to America and writing, directing and producing a documentary called Fire Eyes (available free online) about FGM.