By the Light of the Crescent Moon by Ailsa Keppie

By the Light of the Crescent Moon, Alisa Keppie’s memoir is an absorbing and vivid account of Keppie’s journey to discover herself. And like many people, she does this by losing herself first—in this case falling in love with a man from another culture and faith tradition.

Nova Scotia-born Keppie is a young woman living in the UK as a trapeze artist when she meets the charming and handsome Said, a Muslim man from Tangier who is performing in the same circus as her. With almost heady readiness, Keppie abandons her Western life and friend group, converts to Islam, and marries Said. For readers who have struggled with identity, Keppie’s decisions might seem incredible. 

However, for readers who have wrestled with finding themselves —with learning to tune out what the world expects and tune in to their own desires—Keppie’s willingness to shed one skin for another isn’t so unbelievable. And while Keppie makes this transformation without regrets, she doesn’t make it without reflection: “Things had shifted so radically in my life, and I seemed to be taking on another role, to which I had no real connection.”   

Becoming a pious Muslim wife delights Keppie’s husband and gives her a new sense of purpose.  She is lonely, though, even as she is welcomed into Said’s Muslim community in Manchester. This disconnect is highlighted by her repeated use of the word “exotic” to describe people (Said) and other things, like food. Through the use of exoticism as a trope, Keppie not only further signals her distance from her new community but also reveals that she is romanticizing her new life. Or that she’s trying to do so. 

Early in the memoir, when Keppie has just moved into Said’s flat, she describes how there are pictures of Said’s ex-girlfriends around. Said is flippant about their presence and doesn’t take them down. Neither does Keppie. Not at first. She is intent on maintaining the illusion that things are okay; that Said’s unusual and disrespectful behaviour towards her is normal. 

While living together in Manchester, Keppie and Said have the first two of their four daughters. However, Keppie’s in-laws, who still live in Morocco, are growing older and their health is declining. Somewhat impulsively, Keppie suggests that they move to Tangier to live with Said’s parents. A pattern is being established: the move is Keppie’s idea, just as it was her idea to convert to Islam and to wear a burka.  When Said eventually takes a second wife in Tangier, it is also Keppie’s idea. Said is happy with these developments, but he doesn’t ask them of her. While Keppie throws herself into the role of what she thinks a good Muslim wife should be, Said seems largely disinterested in the life she is creating for them as a family. In both Manchester and Tangier, he stays out late with friends, doesn’t help around the house or take much interest in his children. Even when he takes a second wife, his enthusiasm for the new wife burns out hard and fast.

While there are moments of joy and beauty and friendship in Keppie’s life in Tangier, Keppie becomes reluctantly aware that she’s fallen out of love with Said and has also begun to lose her Muslim faith. Still, while Keppie becomes critical of Said, she remains respectful of the Muslim religion and tradition. At one point, when a documentary crew asks to interview Keppie as part of a film they’re doing on foreign women in Morocco, she notices the director seems dissatisfied with her answers: 

Perhaps she wished I would rise up and take back my life, that I would confirm her suspicion that Muslim women were controlled and disempowered. Perhaps she wanted a story of the maiden in distress that could be rescued and saved from the throes of a life in servitude to the male dominated, fundamentalist thinking that colours the view of the women in this country. I wasn't sure exactly, and maybe she wasn't sure either.

Keppie eventually comes to feel trapped, but it is not her faith or even her marriage that has constricted her.  She realizes it is the expectations that she has imposed on herself, which stem from insecurities and uncertainties about who she is. 

In By the Light of the Crescent Moon, Keppie relates her story in evocative prose that’s self-revelatory and unapologetic. She writes to make us aware of truths that she was not aware of herself at the time. We’re granted aftershocks of realization, and given insight into a fuller picture of who Keppie is and what she really wants, making the question that drives this fascinating story not so much if, but how Keppie will ever see these things herself.  
This memoir will likely inspire conflicting feelings in many readers, as it did in me. It’s hard not to feel infuriated by Keppie’s actions and inactions, but it’s also hard not to admire her seemingly endless reserves of passion and strength. An eye-opening read. Recommend!

Ailsa is a lifelong student of self-awareness and spiritual connection. She finds expression of her personal view on life and relationships through writing, coaching and working with the body. Expanding the feeling of aliveness both in herself and the people she comes into contact with is something she finds enriching and fulfilling. Ailsa continues her work these days with somatic coaching, teaching and writing. She focuses on healing relationships with ourselves, others, and the planet.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ OC Publishing (Aug. 26 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 436 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989833098
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989833094
 -- Website

Hollay Ghadery is a writer living in small-town Ontario. Her fiction, non-fiction and poetry have been published in various literary journals, including The Malahat Review, Room, Grain and The Fiddlehead. In 2004, she graduated from Queen's University with her BAH in English Literature, and in 2007, she graduated from the University of Guelph with her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. She is the recipient of the Constance Rooke Scholarship in Creative Writing, as well as Ontario Arts Council grants for her poetry and non-fiction. Hollay is the force behind River Street Writing—a collective of freelance writers who create exceptional content and provide creative consultancy services for personal and professional projects. Learn more about them at Her first book is FUSE.