Study Guide

A Border Passage Books/Garden as a Path to Freedom

By Leila Ahmed

Books/Garden as a Path to Freedom

Ahmed is a child of privilege, no question about it. She tells us that her childhood home has a beautiful and rare garden that's actually a little bit famous in Cairo at the time. Yeah, when your backyard is essentially in the Cairo edition of Better Homes and Gardens, you know you're pretty well off.

But when Ahmed is restricted from playing in it after the incident with her neighbor, Freddie, she feels that all the happiness of her childhood has come to an end. She's not even being dramatic.

The garden is a powerful thing in Ahmed's life. It's a place where body and mind can wander freely—and dream. While Ahmed also uses books as a vehicle of escape during her lonely childhood, she never makes the connection between the garden and her books until she has a friend read her dad's memoirs to her:

[Father] decided, too, that the one thing he wanted [his children] to have was a garden, a place where body and imagination could run free. Listening to my friend read these words I found myself intuitively understanding that English and all the English books with which Father had surrounded us had been intended to serve exactly the same purpose as the garden: to nourish and free imagination. (26-27)

As Ahmed meditates on intellectual freedom as Father's theme, she understands at last that his insistence on a fantastic garden and the ability to read works in English wasn't really about social privilege. He really wanted to make sure that their minds and bodies were strong enough to stand up to a hostile world.

Good job, dad.

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