Book Review | Woman at Point Zero, Nawal El Saadawi

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Woman at Point Zero CoverNormally, this would be a Top Ten Tuesday, but I have way too many reviews to get done before the end of the month. This is the first of my reviews from the Dewey 24 Hour Readathon! I wasn’t as productive as I’d hoped, but I still got a lot done!

Rating: 5 out of 5

Short Review: Only 108 pages, Woman at Point Zero still manages to pack a serious punch, refusing to shy away from the gritty details of Egyptian prostitution.


At the beginning of the novella, Nawal El Saadawi it trying to talk to a death row inmate for her psychology research. Her efforts are rejected; Firdaus, refuses to talk to her the first few times Nawal El Saadawi approaches the jail. Finally, she speaks. Stern and no-nonsense, Firdaus orders her to sit while she recounts how she became a murder. It’s her last chance to have her story told before her execution.

The inmate, Firdaus, has been imprisoned not only for murdering a man– but for having absolutely no remorse for her crime. In fact, after killing, she wonders why she’d never hurt a man before. It sounds extreme, but after reading her story, it becomes clear that her life had been dictated by the whims of men, and her worth dictated by how she could serve them.

Firdaus begins her story as a young girl, smarter than she was pretty, which both helps and hinders her later in life. She learns about sex early, fooling around with a young boy, but also being groped by a family member. Like many others, she’s happiest at school, where, despite the headmistress’ judgmental eyes, she’s able to earn a secondary diploma. It’s a turning point for her, and something she constantly references throughout the story.

Secondary school degrees mean nothing when other students have university degrees, but university will never be her reality. Her uncle refuses to send her to school with men, and instead decides to marry her the 19 year old to a revolting old man with a healthy sexual appetite. At this point, she’s on her own, deciding to brave the Cairo streets in hopes of finding a way to take care of herself.

She does, but it’s in a way she never anticipated: prostitution. The meat of the novel follows Firdaus in and out of prostitution, as she becomes increasingly street savvy. Her story is honest and largely emotionless, even though it evokes emotion from Nawal El Saadawi and readers. Is prostitution honorable? Is the living she’s making honorable? Is she valued less because of her profession? Is being a prostitute more freeing than being a wife? Her narrative answers all these questions with painful depth. The result is beautiful, and angering, forcing no small amount of self-reflection on sexuality and gender.

Nawal El Saadawi, not my photo
Nawal El Saadawi taught at my undergrad, but I couldn’t┬átake her class! I love this photo of her– I feel like she’s asking me why I’m not doing anything with my life.

There’s no mercy in this novel. Despite others urging her to appeal her death sentence, she refuses, and is executed mere minutes after she finishes telling her story. Nawal El Saadawi finds herself inconsolable, having looked bravery in the face and seemingly fallen short. She’s not alone,

I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars because it manages to leave a mark despite only being 108 pages. It’s a great book for people who want a feminist feminist read that looks a little bit different from more conventional the ones on Our Shared Shelf. More importantly, it’s a short intro to Nawal El Saadawi, who habitually refuses to shy away from difficult subjects such as rape, marriage, prostitution and female circumcision.

Have any of you read Nawal El Saadawi before? If you have, or if you’ve read anything similar, let me know in the comments! Also feel free to give me a post-readathon update! Are you posting your reviews at once? Or spacing them out?

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25 Comments

  1. […] Woman at Point Zero, by Nawal El Saadawi […]

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  2. That is one amazing photo! I read her book in college so sadly not for a class but I loved it. Even if it was a tough read. Has she written more? Somehow I never checked, shame on me.

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    1. She’s written lots of stuff! Some academic, and others more like this

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      1. Looks like I got some catching up to do!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ve heard The Hidden Face of Eve is the next one to go for. That’s what I’m doing, in any case!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Definitely adding this to the list. And you’re right—that picture is amazing!

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    1. I can’t wait until I’m an old lady and can take fabulous introspective photos with my silver (not grey) hair.

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      1. Right? Secretly I hope my white hair (I’m 31, but about a third of my hair has turned) will make me look extremely distinguished some day.

        Also, are you going to do a post on Lemonade? Warsan Shire = amazing.

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      2. I’d really like to! I need to really sit down with her stuff and figure out something great to say first haha

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  4. This sounds amazing. I wonder if you felt like you had to read something relatively light and fluffy afterwards for a change of pace? Are you like that? I often have to alternate heavy reads with lighter fare.

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    1. I read this right after reading both Ta Nehisi Coates books during the 24 hour Readathon, so I guess my meter for heavy reads goes pretty high. But there are absolutely times when I’d rather just read dopey old fan fiction afterwards for a changr of pace, haha. I do seem to read a lot of heavy books though. I just dont know what light books are out there! I’m open to recommendations, because sometimes wild subject matter really gets to me

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      1. “Lighter” books really are tricky, because sometimes they tend to be kinda dumb, and I don’t know your tolerance for that! Sometimes I go to mysteries/thrillers since I’m a fan of that genre, and they’re often more “plotty” than literary fiction. I particularly enjoy Michael Connelly and Ruth Rendell. As for fiction, Rainbow Rowell is a fun writer, as is Sarah Addison Allen. I also enjoyed The Rosie Project more than I thought I might. It was cinematically fun.

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      2. This is fantastic– thanks so much! I will say that every once in a while, I don’t mind the odd YA book to break up the monotony. So I’m really open minded! I’ve heard so much about Rainbow Rowell, so maybe I’ll hope on the bandwagon!

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  5. This has been on my tbr for forever, gotta bump it up now lol

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    1. Do ittttt! It’s so short that you’ll have it done in a single sitting!

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  6. I don’t believe I’ve ever given such a short book 5 stars. It really must be something special.

    I’m trying to read more novellas and short stories, so I may pick this one up if I see it at my Barnes & Noble next week. My first book haul after the ban is going to be epic…

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    1. Nooooo you can’t negate all the money saving you did by binge buying! As for this book, I don’t know that I even read enough novellas to know how I normally rate them. I’m also an El-Saadawi groupie, so I couldn’t have given this less than a 4. I may also have the benefit of this being a reread– the first time was in my contemporary philosophy course. So I’ve discussed it before, and wrung out all the juice from it.

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      1. Hah, I will try not to buy too many. I really should at least, considering I will be moving at the end of May. I will probably buy 2 books the first week of May. I wanted to buy books from Rosarium pub for ages, and told them I would, but then I did my book buying ban. I felt terrible. D:https://brownbooksandgreentea.com/2016/04/26/book-review-the-woman-at-point-zero-nawal-el-saadawi/comment-page-1/#respond

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      2. I’ve bought absolutely nothing from Rosarium Pub and its really important that we do. Thanks for the reminder.

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    2. this is also going to sound bizarre, but I’m obsessed with gritty books and films about prostitution.

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      1. OMG, have you seen Tangerine? It’s amazing. You would love it. Please tell me you’ve seen it! It’s on Netflix.

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  7. I’ve never heard of this, but it sounds good – I’ve just added it to my novella list!

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    1. and I don’t know if you read novellas in your literary wives club, but this would be a really interesting read from that perspective, too.

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      1. Oh, thanks – that’s good to know!

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