Who is Nawal El Saadawi? Have you not heard of her? I know I had not, until I was exposed to her writing in my English class. We were assigned to read her novel Woman at Point Zero. Nawal El Saadawi is a novelist and a psychiatrist. She was imprisoned in 1981 for her political views on women’s rights and was released only after President Sadat was assonated. After her time in prison she realized that one person could be silenced but not a whole organization. So she set out to start the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association.
Woman at Point Zero is a tale of a woman and her life that lead up to the point where she was going to be executed for murder. This woman named Firdaus was born in a rural village in Egypt. From an early age she is forced to be oppressed by the males in her life. She sees her mother beaten for the deaths of her brothers by her father, but nothing is done for the deaths of her sisters. She feels that the man who is her father is not her father and one day she asks her mother “How was it that she had given birth to me without a father?” Her mother than beat her and “then she brought a women who was caring a small knife or maybe a razor blade. They cut off a piece of flesh from between my thighs.” This experience ofgenital mutilation has an impact on her for the rest of her life.
Her uncle sends her to elementary school after her father dies and the she goes to live with her uncle in Cairo after her mother dies. She feels as if she is reborn into a new life in the city. But she doesn’t know who she is. At some point it is indicated that her uncle probably took her innocence and that changed their relationship. He then married and they all moved into a house. His new wife did not like Firdaus and they sent her way to attend secondary school. St this school she meets a teacher who resonates in her this need for a mother figure. But in the end she has to go back to her uncle’s house, where she is not welcome. Her uncle and his wife marry her off to an older relative. He beats herand treats her badly. So she runs away.
Firdaus is now on the streets and is scared. A man who seems to be nice takes her home with him, but he just ends up using her like all the other men in her life. His name was Bayoumi and he “took to locking Firdaus in the flat before going out.” He then starting letting his friends come over and abuse her. “One day a neighbor saw her through the lattice of the door as she stood there weeping. She asked her what was wrong, so Firdaus told her.” The woman got a carpenter to free her and she ran as fast as she could away from there.
When she stopped it was in a park where a woman names Sharifa found her. Sharifa although not a good person as she made money off of Firdaus, laid the ground work down for Firdaus to start valuing herself, for her to see herself as something or someone of worth. This is a main theme in the book, that the women have to value themselves before men will ever value them.
Now this all sounds like Nawal El Saadawi had a hard life if this the type of novel she would write. But she writes to help other women see the oppression around them. In an interview with Miriam Cooke from Duke University she explains how her grandmother had a huge impact on her. This woman who never read a book was a strong woman and was into the local politics. She raised her son to be a good man, and father. Unlike the characters in her books Nawal El Saadawi had a good relationship with her father. Her father never was cruel or disrespectful of her mother and this relationship help to shape this woman to make her go one to become a doctor, and to later fight for the human rights of women in Egypt.
Even to this day Nawal El Saadawi is fighting to go home to her native country to help the oppressed women there see their worth. She has been exiled from her home land and has fought for her books to not be banned from there. In May of this year she won a case that was filed against her to deprive her of her nationality. The court handed down that the law doesn’t allow lifting nationality for holding controversial thoughts or different creed. Though she is still waiting to go home until she feels it is safe for her to return.
For more information about Nawal El Saadawi go to her websites:
Here is also the link to the interview with Miriam Cooke at Duke University:
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