Publisher: Zed Books
Category: Translated literature
Challenges: A Year of Feminist Classics
Synopsis: From Amazon.com: Kafr El Teen is a beautiful, sleepy village on the banks of the Nile. Yet at its heart it is tyrannical and corrupt. The Mayor, Sheikh Hamzawi of the mosque, and the Chief of the Village Guard are obsessed by wealth and use and abuse the women of the village, taking them as slaves, marrying them and beating them. Resistance, it seems, is futile. Zakeya, an ordinary villager, works in the fields by the Nile and watches the world, squatting in the dusty entrance to her house, quietly accepting her fate. It is only when her nieces fall prey to the Mayor that Zakeya becomes enraged by the injustice of her society and possessed by demons. Where is the loving and peaceful God in whom Zakeya believes?
My Thoughts: I wanted to love this book, I really did. But somehow it didn’t capture me. I felt very confused as to what was going on, there seemed to be things happening on the surface and I got those okay, but it also seemed like there were things deep below the surface and I just did not get where El Saadawi was taking me. The different stories seemed connected but I just didn’t see how, except on the surface.
So the surface issues I did get: there was definitely a theme about the treatment of women and poor. The creation of the Other was clear here. The poor girls were doubly victimised through the sexual violence perpetrated against them and through the doing of this under the guise of it being a good Muslim. The power structures in the town were clear where the rich were more worth than the poor and women were the worst off of all.
If one looks at the book through the eyes of the challenge that caused me to read this book, A Year of Feminist Classics, it is clear that this book continues the theme of relative power between the sexes, and women are at a disadvantage. What this book does to take that theme further is to show how women, because of childbearing, are left even more vulnerable. Their “sin” is even more visible in that they can become pregnant. Here the importance of the woman as a virgin becomes clear through the checking of blood on the sheets after the wedding night. The book also shows how the perceived sin of bastards can damage people.
I am currently reading Words Not Swords: Iranian Women Writers and the Freedom of Movement (Gender, Culture, and Politics in the Middle East) by Farzaneh Milani and it deals with some of the issues regarding women in this culture and the need for the virgin bride. These two books are excellent companion reads.