Literature of the Middle East

Nawal El Saadawi, Author, Sherif Hetata, Translator, Sherif Hitata, Translator
Nawal El Saadawi, Author, Sherif Hetata, Translator, Sherif Hitata, Translator University of California Press $23 (233p) ISBN 978-0-520-08889-4
Paperback - 233 pages - 978-0-520-21652-5
Portable Document Format (PDF) - 233 pages - 978-0-520-92202-0
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In this densely structured allegorical novel, Saadawi (The Fall of the Imam), Egypt's foremost feminist writer, again confronts the role of women in Muslim society-this time, by imagining a disturbing, dangerous world characterized by miscommunication between the sexes and ancient strictures on behavior. Set in and around an insane asylum, the story centers on two women: Ganat, an inmate who slips in and out of consciousness, and Narguiss, who has failed a test of virginity on her wedding night. The lives of both are constricted by the power that men have over them. What the author sees as the dual, warring nature of men's feelings toward women-admiration for women's procreative power conflicting with their need to make women submit to them-lies at the heart of Ganat and Narguiss's problems, which are further complicated by a society in which Christianity and Islam coexist in uneasy balance. The narrative, which shifts through multiple points of view and from present to past and back again, is extremely difficult to follow, lessening the emotional impact of the characters' plights. Still, Saadawi writes beautifully and in abundant and evocative physical detail of an Egypt that remains closely tied to the land and to a way of life that in many aspects has not changed for centuries. (Nov.)
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