[#DecolonizeBookshelves2022] Woman At Point Zero


Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.

Woman At Point Zero [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Nawal El Saadawi Translated by Sherif Hetata Original Title: امرأة عند نقطة الصفر Published by Zed Books (2015, first published 1977) ISBN: 1783605944 (ISBN13: 9781783605941) Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

This is the fourth book that I am reviewing / featuring as part of our #DecolonizeBookshelves2022 reading theme from my target list of 25 books (for this year) from This Is The Canon: Decolonize Your Bookshelf In 50 Books (Amazon | Book Depository).

My book log indicates that I started reading the book on March 25, 2022 and finished on March 28 and wrote my review the following day on March 29. I have taken a photo of my entry and sharing it here.

I read this novel in three days and was fascinated by the Author’s Preface as to how the idea for the writing of this story evolved, which started off with an encounter between the author Nawal El Saadawi and a woman imprisoned on death row for murder. While the author had numerous conversations with other women in prison for a research that she was conducting on neurosis and women, she could not forget Firdaus, whom for her “remained a woman apart”:

She stood out amongst the others, vibrated within me, or sometimes lay quiet, until the day when I put her down in ink on paper and gave her life after she had died.

The story is unforgettable and a searing portrayal of how vulnerable women are in a world dominated by men, living in a culture marked by violence and poverty. Firdaus’ voice as portrayed by the author seemed almost hypnotic in the way she told her story. Yet there were occasions when I found some parts repetitive and long-winded, especially the ones where Firdaus was sitting inert in some secluded shadowy corner of a room, and she would find herself crying for no reason. While of course her plight is tragic, she always managed to carry herself with dignity and inner strength, which made the parts where she appeared helpless and weak and seeming in need of pity quite difficult to reconcile with the strong image that she was portraying herself to be.

… Yet not for a single moment did I have any doubts about my own integrity and honour as a woman. I knew that my profession had been invented by men, and that men were in control of both our worlds, the one on earth, and the one in heaven. That men force women to sell their bodies at a price, and that the lowest paid body is that of a wife. All women are prostitutes of one kind or another – p. 124.

There is a strong anti-male sentiment in the novel, which is understandable given their predatory nature in Firdaus’ narrative. However, as I have pointed out in my review above, I would have preferred a layer of complexity and moral ambiguity whereby not all men are set out as evil creatures out to subjugate or oppress women and exploit their vulnerability. I usually am cautious with singularities and essentialist types of portrayal that disregard the many permutations of humanity and ways of being. Regardless, the voice in this narrative is powerful, unapologetic, and scathing in its loathing of men without any form of redemption whatsoever.

#DecolonizeBookshelves2022 Update: 32 out of target 100

April 2, 2022 at 06:30AM Myra Garces-Bacsal