cover image Memoirs from the Women's Prison

Memoirs from the Women's Prison

Nawal Sa'dawi, Nawal El Saadawi. University of California Press, $40 (204pp) ISBN 978-0-520-08887-0

In this highly literary, Kafkaesque account, Saadawi, an Egyptian feminist, doctor, activist and author of books on female sexuality, recalls her imprisonment in 1981 for ``attack[ing] the ruling system''. While her case was investigated, Saadawi spent 22 days in jail, getting out when President Sadat was assassinated. In meticulous detail and understated language, she describes nightmarish experiences in a tomb-like women's cell with other political prisoners-both intellectuals and Islamic fundamentalists. She observes, ``Time and the wall have merged into one. The air is motionless. Nothing moves around me except the cockroaches and rats, as I lie on a thin rubber mattress which gives off the odour of old urine, my empty handbag placed under my head.'' There is an honest, reflective quality to her writing, and her plight evokes outrage and sympathy. Yet there is a certain paranoia as well, that of someone on the far left who viewed Islamic extremists as allies in the fight for national unity against a government controlled by foreigners, someone who volunteered to fight with Palestinian guerillas in Jordan and saw herself as being victimized because of her opposition to Sadat's policies of peace with Israel. (Nov.)