Deborah Baker is best known as the author of relatively straightforward books about Laura Riding and Allen Ginsberg. Her latest, The Convert: A Tale of Exile in Extremism, is a near-total departure for the author: It tells a fascinating story, and pushes the envelope of the biographer’s art.
Baker was rummaging around in the New York Public Library when she ran across personal papers of
Margaret Marcus–an American woman who left her life in the New York suburbs behind in 1962, and became a radical Islamist in Pakistan. (Marcus, who’d changed her name to Maryam Jameelah, had written a number of diatribes against Western materialism, but she’d also continued to correspond with her Jewish parents in Westchester County.) Baker follows the paper trail, which ultimately leads her to Pakistan, and to a bracing confrontation with Marcus/Jameelah herself.
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