‘Writing Is the Love of My Life’

Nawal El Saadawi continues to make the circuit of book fairs and literary festivals, having recently appeared at the Beirut International Book Fair and scheduled to be at the Umeå International Littfest in March:

nawalelsadawiThe Swedes note that El Saadawi has been mentioned in connection to their big peace prize “several times,” and a Swedish paper tosses in a connection with the literary prize as well.

There was a time, as translator Marilyn Booth has noted, that Nawal El Saadawi was virtually the only Arab female novel known in English. El Saadawi is certainly still one of the most popular voices in translation — in The New Yorker  and The Guardian, as well as in news outlets of other political leanings and on the litfest circuit — although now there are other women’s narratives to complicate and thicken the reading both of El Saadawi and of other works.

Although El Saadawi’s fiction can feel not-completely-formed, a number of her memoirs, particularly her Memoirs from the Women’s Prison, are sharply worded and sketch thorough, sympathetic worlds.

At her appearance last month in Beirut, according to Lebanese novelist Jana Elhassan writing in The Daily Star, El Saadawi spoke about her love of writing:

Writing is the love of my life. It makes me oblivious to everything else. And loneliness is a grace for the artist … Doubt also leads to questions and ultimately to more creativity.

El Saadawi, who seems to get more radical with age, also said that “if could turn back time, I would not marry or have children at all,” calling motherhood — under a patriarchal system — a trap.

And yet El Saadawi also expressed pride in her writer-children, who have also faced persecution for their mother’s writings. “The price you pay for creative writing is costly,” she said at the Beirut fair.

“I paid it all: prison, exile, dismissal from work, defamation, having my name placed on death lists, having hesah lawsuits leveled against me, being forced to divorce my husband, having my Egyptian nationality withdrawn, being accused of blasphemy.”

She added: “I feel momentary guilt when I think of the sacrifices my family made because of my rebellion and revolution…but such moments quickly fade when I see the creative production of my son and daughter.”

For Saadawi, who has written numerous works of nonfiction and fiction, writing is important not just as art, but for its healing effect. “Creative writing is the best cure for physical and psychological illnesses, including masochism.”