There aren’t many books you’ll read where you find yourself siding with a murdering prostitute, but this is definitely one of them. El Saadawi has written an absolute classic; classic for so many reasons I barely know where to start.
It’s amazing that such a small book can pack such a punch. But then, I’ve noticed over the years that short novels often do. Maybe it’s because their message is concentrated, like distilled liquor, that it hits you so hard. At 120 pages, this is one you can easily read in one sitting.
But “easily” is perhaps not an appropriate adverb for anyone’s reading of this. The tale of Firdaus, the Arabian everywoman, is told from prison where she is being held prior to her execution for murder. It begins with her childhood and ends with the crime that she is convicted of. Throughout it is populated by men who do nothing but use her to satisfy their sexual appetites and use various means to oppress her while they do so.
At every turn, whether it be towards what society regards as virtuous and proper or to that which is regarded as corrupt, she finds herself unable to escape the constant harrasment that every male she comes across subjugates her to. Ultimately, one man pays with his life, loose change towards the price of her suffering.
Reading this book, with not one redeeming male character in it, made me wonder if I too was oppressing women in some way. If so, I’m not conscious of it. And if there’s one weakness in the writing, then perhaps it’s this blanket view of men. Granted this was written in 1970s Cairo and times have changed somewhat, even in Egypt. But was El Saadawi really saying that all men are like this and all women are their victims? That seems a bit too much for me.
It doesn’t stop it from being an exceptionally important book both for when and where it was written and for its contents. One of the best I’ll read this year no doubt.
|RATING||Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | StyleRead more about how I come up with my ratings|