"Growing Up bin Laden: Osama's Wife and Son Take Us Inside Their Secret World," by Najwa bin Laden, Omar bin Laden, Jean Sasson, St. Martin's Griffin, $15.99, 340 pages
Jean Sasson initially had negative feelings about talking to the son of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. He had contacted Sasson's publisher, saying he wanted to tell his personal story about growing up in that family. But her curiosity drove Sasson to make the call. She then found out about the "miserable" childhood Omar experienced and agreed to collaborate on a book with him and his mother, the first wife of Osama bin Laden.
Readers the book resulting from that collaboration might initially possess similar feelings. Who wants to be reminded of this "ruthless" terrorist and learn about his family life after seeing all the evil he and his followers have perpetrated? For those who are curious, however, and want to give the bin Laden family an opportunity to share their side of the story; they will find "Growing Up bin Laden" a fascinating and informative book. It provides insights into into Osama bin Laden's home life and his growing passion for destroying anything he considers to be an affront to Islam and into the slowly disintegrating life of a whole innocent family who had no interest in violence and jihad.
Najwa bin Laden was married to her cousin Osama when she was 15 and he was 17. They are still married, although she finally fled his side shortly before the attacks of September 11 and hasn't been with him since. Omar bin Laden is the fourth son of the couple. Over the years, Osama married five more times, divorcing once and annulling once. He felt it was important to raise as many children up in Islam as possible.
Unfortunately, although the bin Laden family were wealthy business owners, Osama's family eventually grew poor. The extremist decided they should live a simple existence, shunning modern conveniences like refrigeration and air conditioning. The growing family for a long time at least had large compounds, with plenty of space for the wives and children as they lived in Saudi Arabia and Sudan, but when they were kicked out of those countries, they ended up in Afghanistan, where they were reduced to unthinkable living conditions for two reasons. First, Osama's financial assets had been frozen by his former countries, and second, he chose for his family to live in primitive, cramped quarters on his mountain in Tora Bora.
Omar bin Laden relates how he wanted a normal father, but he was constantly disappointed by his father's propensity to violence and rage and his narrow focus on jihad and revenge against the West. Reading the firsthand experiences and feelings of Najwa and Omar truly takes us inside their world of fear, disappointment and isolation and gives readers the opportunity to empathize with innocent people who suffered at the hands of a tyrant.
Remarkably, though Osama bin Laden expected at least some of his many sons to follow in his footsteps, and though the children were indoctrinated with anti-West messages, none of his children have joined him in his al-Qaeda movement, and, indeed, Omar wishes to build a peace movement instead.
Cathy Carmode Lim is the founder of RatedReads.com.