An autobiography sets out to do two things: to celebrate oneself and to rationalize one's actions. This autobiography of Jehan Sadat, wife of the assassinated Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, does these things both for the author and for her late husband. She has written a fascinating account of the life of a woman--charming, strong-willed, capable, with an overweening ego and a love for power--who was supported and abetted by a loving husband.
It is also a love story between Jehan and Anwar that is touching and heart-warming. It is, lastly, an apologia for the Sadat regime with no hint of regret. Many of Jehan's actions brought her criticism and odium from her fellow citizens, to which she seemed--and still seems--indifferent, believing that she was always right and her critics wrong.
The book opens with Sadat's assassination, written in a moving manner. Mrs. Sadat stresses the love she believes the Egyptians had for her husband, but never questions why such presumed affection did not manifest itself in public distress over the assassination. But this is a book with many fewer questions than answers.
In the first chapter, for example, Sadat presents a somewhat negative image of the then vice president, Husni Mubarak, as a man paralyzed by the assassination, incapable of action until she, the grieving widow, forced him to shoulder his responsibilities. Throughout the book, we are told that when others were indecisive, she was the one to act. At the end of the book, she is equally ungracious about President Mubarak and complains that she has to earn her living when all Egyptians know that Mubarak allowed her to keep two government residences (their staff and upkeep paid by the state), several cars and a generous pension.
The book then goes back in time to her childhood, her meeting with Anwar Sadat and their life together, before and after he became president. It ends with an unnecessary account of who did, or did not, send condolences when he died.
Errors of fact in the book range from the trifling to the more serious, such as claiming that she was the first Egyptian leader's wife to work outside the home. In fact, Mrs. Sadat was merely following the precedent of all the wives of Egyptian leaders from 1919 onward--with the sole exception of Mrs. Nasser--who had founded most of the women's organizations and charitable institutions in which Mrs. Sadat later was active.
The book is frequently permeated with naive political statements that sound surprising coming from such a savvy lady. After one visit to Iran, the shah and his wife become her "dear friends," and she tells her husband that it is her "duty" to inform the shah that his country is heading for a revolution. What prescience, especially for a perfect stranger to Iran. But the book is riddled with stories about her prescience, her premonitions, about Nasser's death, or an earlier attempt on her husband's life, but oddly enough, she seemed to have had no premonition on the fateful day of her husband's assassination.
The chapters dealing with the steps toward peace with Israel and with the rise of the fundamentalist movement are equally naive, if not ingenuous. In the same breath she blames the Arab world for disdaining the Camp David agreements and points out how the Israelis had broken the accords by continuously building settlements on the West Bank, by declaring Jerusalem the "united and indivisible capital of Israel," by bombing the reactor in Baghdad, etc., so that her husband became "enraged" at such actions. Yet she can never concede that the Arab states and the Palestinians may have had a point of view worthy of consideration, that they may have wanted to wait and see how the Camp David accords would work before they jumped on the Sadat bandwagon.