Egyptian writer Nawal El Saadawi has had more than 20 books translated from Arabic into English, making her English’s most-translated Arab writer after Naguib Mahfouz:
Her stature as a feminist and activist has long been large, with her identity as an author largely secondary. But this year, there was perhaps more serious talk about her taking a Nobel Prize for Literature than in any year previous.
This comes as three of her books are being re-released by Zed: Woman at Point Zero, The Hidden Face of Eve, and God Dies by the Nile and Other Novels. Starting October 21, El Saadawi will be speaking about the books around the UK, and she was recently featured in a long profile in The Guardian, in which her personality comes through as fierce as ever.
Although the re-release focuses on her fiction, it is particularly her memoirst that have been much more successful than her fiction. Celebrated Egyptian poet Iman Mersal recommends ِAwraqi…Hayati (1995), while award-winning novelist Amitav Ghosh recommends Memoirs from a Women’s Prison.
“The Death of His Excellency, The Ex-Minister,” trans. Amira Nowaira.
Place your hand over my head, Mother, the way you used to do when I was little. You’re the only human being left for me in this world. For twenty long years you never reproached me for failing to visit you. But you weren’t the only person I stayed away from; I was far too busy to pay attention to the world around me or even to myself. My wife and old childhood friends didn’t fare any better. I didn’t have time to see my daughter. I barely even had time to look at my own face. Before going out, I would cast a quick glimpse at myself in the mirror, only to adjust my tie and make sure there was no colour mismatch between my shirt and my suit.
Excerpt from Memoirs from the Women’s Prison, trans. Marilyn Booth
I heard a knock at the door.
I was sitting at the small desk in my bedroom, absorbed in writing a new novel. The clock hand pointed to three. It was the afternoon of Sunday, 6 September, 1981.
I ignored the knock. Perhaps it was the concierge, or possibly the milkman, or the man who does our ironing. Or it could be anyone else, but if no one were to answer the door, the steps would surely recede. The fourth rapping, and the fifth, and the knocking on the door went on and on…I got up and went to the door. Long black shadows behind the glass pane, and the sound of heavy breathing. A shiver ran over my body. I was all alone in the flat…
Thieves, perhaps. But thieves don’t knock on doors…
Excerpt from Memoirs of a Woman Doctor, trans. Catherine Cobham
The conflict between me and my femininity began very early on, before my female characteristics had become pronounced and before I knew anything about myself, my sex and my origins, indeed before I knew the nature of the cavity which had housed me before I was expelled into the wide world.
Excerpt from The Innocence of the Devil, trans. Sherif Hetata
Excerpt from Woman at Point Zero, trans. Sherif Hetata
Excerpt from A Daughter of Isis, trans. Sherif Hetata
Excerpts from The Nawal El Saadawi Reader
Win signed copies of the books, contest runs through October 19.
Events in London:
- Thursday 22nd, 7pm – An Evening with Nawal El Saadawi, The Mosaic Rooms, part of the Nour Festival of Arts
- Saturday 24th, 4.30-5.30pm, Reflections on Fighting for Liberation in the Arab World and Globally, part of the Feminism in London conference
- Monday 26th, 7pm, In conversation with Wendell Steavenson, Frontline Club
- Tuesday 27th, 7pm, An evening with Nawal El Saadawi, Housmans Bookshop
- Wednesday 28th, 7pm, That’s What She Said with Nawal El Saadawi, co-hosted with For Books’ Sake at The Book Club
- Thursday 29th, 7pm, Official launch of Zed Books new editions with Jacqueline Rose and Minna Salami, Waterstones’ Piccadilly [SOLD OUT]