Based upon the author’s encounter with a woman imprisoned in Qanatir prison in Cairo, Egypt this novel was written by Dr Nawan El Saadawi, a psychiatrist who came upon a woman in solitary confinement, awaiting her execution. She is an Egyptian feminist novelist born in 1931. A challenging read in terms of content yet written in a sparse and apparently simple style. This is a powerful and uncomfortable story with a depth of meaning far beneath the surface of the words.
Following the first 1978 Arabic publication in Beirut it was banned across several middle east countries, including Egypt. The French edition of the novel was awarded the 1982 Literary Prize for Franco-Arab Friendship.
At one point I recalled A Women of One’s Own as the twenty five year old Firdaus speaks of a room in her apartment. This part of her story finds her saying … ‘Now I could decide on the food I wanted to eat, the house I preferred to live in, refuse the man for whom I felt an aversion no matter what the reason, and choose the man I wished to have ….’ She then talks of her liking of culture. ... ‘ever since I had started to go to school and had learned to read, but especially during this last period, since I could buy books. I had a large library in my apartment, and it was here that I spent most of my free time. On the walls I had hung …. And right in the middle was my secondary school certificate surrounded by an expensive frame. I never received anyone in the library. It was a very special room reserved for me alone’ … (page 69)
I found this work inspiring, deeply thought provoking and at many points it drove me to reflect on 'my' life choices. Thoughts of freedom, dignity, respect for others and for oneself ... all of which I have a choice to accept - or not. Doris Lessing wrote of this book as one in which we are reminded not to take our good fortune for granted. That certainly rang true for me and compelled me to ask how am I using the freedom that I have?
I highly recommend this book for all to ponder upon the value and meaning of life, wherever you are and whatever your gender.
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