top of page
Desert Flower


The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad


Desert Flower

Waris Dirie ran away from her oppressive life in the African desert when she was barely in her teens, illiterate and impoverished, with nothing to her name but a tattered shawl. She traveled alone across the dangerous Somali desert to Mogadishu—the first leg of a remarkable journey that would take her to London, where she worked as a house servant; then to nearly every corner of the globe as an internationally renowned fashion model; and ultimately to New York City, where she became a human rights ambassador for the U.N. Desert Flower is her extraordinary story.

Praise for Desert Flower

Joining the current rage for model memoirs is Dirie, a native of Somalia, who has for more than a decade stalked the world's catwalks and appeared in numerous glossy magazines. This, however, is no fluff-job dictated into a tape recorder on transatlantic flights, then recomposed by a hired gun back in New York. Rather, it is a striking account of a personal odyssey that began in the Somali desert, where Dirie grew up without shoes, living amid nomadic tribes and tyrannized by patriarchal strictures. As a pubescent girl, Dirie was circumcised - procedure described here in chilling detail - before escaping an arranged marriage to stay with an aunt in Mogadishu. Landing a job as a house servant in London, Dirie struggled to launch a modeling career while dodging British immigration authorities and the dreadful results of marriages of convenience. At the end of this affecting and at times very entertaining book, Dirie's metamorphosis from desert nomad into jetsetting nomad culminates in a post as a human rights ambassador to the UN, where, these days, Dirie campaigns for the eradication of female circumcision and women's rights around the globe. It's easy to forget that Dirie's memoir is a book about someone whose success has come from posing for the camera. Indeed, it is Dirie's remarkable lack of narcissism or entitlement that makes her so captivating a raconteur. 

— Publishers Weekly

As a special ambassador to the United Nations, Somalian supermodel Dirie speaks out against the custom of genital mutilation, a "barbaric rite" that she underwent at age five. In this memoir, she "provides a fascinating glimpse of her separate lives?camel herder, supermodel, human rights activist?and manages to weave threads of drama, humor, and courage into each." 

— Library Journal


Dirie's beauty led her to a career as a fashion model; her experience as a young girl subjected to circumcision led her to speak out against the practice and eventually become a human rights ambassador to the United Nations. In this book, Dirie describes her journey from her childhood in a traditional family of desert nomads in Somalia. When her father attempts to arrange for 12-year-old Dirie to marry an old man, the strong-willed girl flees her family and her culture's stifling traditions for women. She runs away to Mogadishu and eventually gets a job as a maid for an uncle who is the Somalian ambassador to England. When the uncle returns to Somalia, Dirie stays in London and begins a career as a model. The most compelling portions of Dirie's story are her graphic portrayals of the practice of female genital mutilation and the impact it has on women who long to control their bodies and their lives.  

— Booklist


The tale of a courageous woman's struggles to come to terms with her Somali childhood, including her experience of female genital mutilation (FGM). Dirie ran away from home at age 13 to escape from an arranged marriage to a 60-year-old man. By age five, however, she had been introduced to FGM, the practice that would ensure her marriageability (and thus her marketability) in Somali culture. While Dirie's beloved mother held her down, a local gypsy woman used a dirty razor blade to scrape away at Dirie's external sexual organs and then sewed her up again, leaving only tiny holes to allow for urination and menstruation to occur in a compromised fashion. After fleeing her family, Dirie worked as a housemaid for a well-placed uncle in London, where she was discovered as a model and embarked on a successful career in fashion. She then underwent surgery to unstitch her vagina (in an unforgettable detail, she explains how amazing it felt to urinate in less than ten minutes and menstruate in less than ten days). More recently she's become an international UN ambassador on the issue of FGM after sharing her personal story with the magazine Marie Claire and on 20/20. And indeed, the issue could hardly have won a better spokeswoman. Her book offers extraordinary firsthand insight into FGM, thought to be performed now on more than two million girls a year. It is also a well-told and truly engaging autobiography with an old-fashioned, Algeresque appeal: obscure African camel-tender becomes internationally admired (and vindicated) high-life heroine. On all counts, an outstandingly dramatic and moving tale. 

— Kirkus Reviews

Film Adaption

Image by Keith Hardy
bottom of page