Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Woman at Point Zero

I re-read one of my favorite books recently, Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El-Saadawi, and it is better than I remember it being the first time.

The novel’s narrator, Firdaus, is on death-row in Eygpt and her execution is set in one week. For the rest of the week, Firdaus recounts her life and how she ended-up on death row. She starts with her childhood; she was born to parents who didn’t love her and was given off to her uncle who married her off to an awful man who abused her.

After a particularly rough night with her husband, which ended in him raping her, Firdaus left her husband promptly. Suddenly Firdaus had to provide for herself in a culture that did not value women’s independence and most jobs were not open to women. So Firdaus decided a career in one of the very few jobs open to women – prostitution.

It proved to be a very luxurious job – FIrdaus owned her own body, something few women could say. She was able to use a word she wasn’t able to, even in her marriage: “no.” She denied men she wanted to, even men who were not accustomed to being denied by women, and got great satisfaction from it. She made good money from being a prostitute, and owned her own apartment and lived very comfortably.

After a few years, Firdaus decided to work at a factory, doing a conventional job. Oddly enough, Firdaus thought the factory was oppressive, not prostitution. She said, “These women are more afraid of losing their job than a prostitute is of losing her life.”

This book changed my perception of prostitution – for better or worse. It’s a slim novel, about 130 pages, and well worth the read. The author, Nawal El-Saadawi is a rad woman, and her biography on Wikipedia is worth a look.

1 comment:

  1. I think Saadawi does an amazing job at challenging the Egyptian status quo. Her work can be a little obscure and at times offensive, but I think at the heart of it all lies a direct challenge to Egyptian society that's missing in most Egyptian writers. Also, if you haven't read them already, God Dies by the Nile, Hidden Face of Eve, and Memoirs from the Women's Prison are also pretty good.