Book Review: “Love Across Borders” by Ellettha Schoustra

14 May 2013

This book is a must for Western women who are about to get married to a man from a non-Western patriarchal culture, and who intend to get established in the home country of their prospective husband – in particular, when the foreign husband comes from a culture where family law, perception of religion and values are different than in Western countries.

In principle, the bases of good family relations are the same in all cultures. Love, mutual support, protection of the weaker and more vulnerable members of the family, tolerance and loyalty: all over the world wellbeing and harmony are based on these principles. But this does not mean that interpretation of these principles is the same all over the world. On the contrary, how a harmonious day-to-day family life looks differs from culture to culture. Getting acquainted with her husband’s family life can be a culture shock for a Western bride.

Export Brides by Ellettha Schoustra

Often, it appears from this book, women tie the knot with full confidence. They are so in love and do not consider the long term consequences inherent in an intercultural marriage. For most women such a marriage ends in disillusionment and in some cases disastrous circumstances, losing their children when they are kidnapped by their father and have to grow up in his country.

The book contains many personal documents of women who went through such an ordeal. Betty Mahmoody is a main example and a Dutch lady, Janneke Schoonhoven, is also mentioned. These stories provide a rich source of do’s and don’ts for women with intercultural wedding plans. Most stories tell about what went wrong, there are few stories included about marriages that work. It seems to be less inviting to write about a successful marriage.

For balance, it might have been good to indicate that an intercultural marriage can be successful and why it can work. One such story is that of Marguerite van Geldermalsen from New Zealand. She marries her holiday love from Jordan, and has a very happy marriage which ends when her husband passes away.

The stories show how to recognize unwanted situations and how to cope with them. The author, Ellettha Schoustra, mentions numerous signs that can warn a bride that there is a situation that leaves a lot to be desired. Violation of the bride is a clear example. A full chapter gives information on how relatives can support and help the bride and what is best not to do.

Ellettha compares the situation with The Netherlands in the 19th century, where women were considered not to be of age to make such decisions. Her father arranged her business and he would see to it that his daughter would not receive short shrift. When a Western woman marries a non-Western man from a patriarchal culture, it is imperative that her father makes sure all is properly arranged for, as this commands respect.

It should be considered mandatory for each and every bride to learn about legislation and consequences of a marriage contract but that is not on the mind of a bride to be. And that is why the role of family in these circumstances is of vital importance.

The emphasis in this interesting book is on marriage between a western woman and a man from an Islamic culture, one wonders whether Western women marrying an Asian or Latino man also experience similar culture differences and face consequent problems as well.

Concluding, this book almost seems a handbook for women who intend to marry a non-western man from a patriarchal culture. It contains lots of practical tips.

Buy the Book

English version:
“Love Across Borders. Opportunities and obstacles for export brides”. ISBN: 978-1-62772-981-9. Published 24 August 2013. It can be ordered via the publisher Publish America, from, and at the American Book Center.

Dutch version: 
“Kansen en hindernissen voor exportbruiden. Liefde over de grens”. ISBN 978-90-484-2184-8. Published 11 December 2011. Available via the publishing company Free Musketeers, from, or can be ordered from any Dutch bookshop.

About the Reviewer

Review by Margaritha van Zuilen. Margaritha has a Spanish mother and has previously lived in Spain and France. She studied history and worked for KLM for several years.