Normally, 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.
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?