Egyptian author, activist, and physician Nawal El Saadawi — one of the most widely translated Arab authors of the twentieth century — died Sunday at the age of 89:
Born in 1931 in Kafr Tahla in upper Egypt, El Saadawi graduated from Cairo University with a degree in medicine in 1955. She worked first as a doctor and public-health administrator and published early and often, beginning with her Memoirs of a Woman Doctor (1960), which was translated by Catherine Cobham, and ranging across research works, novels, short stories, and memoirs. Her Women and Sex caused a sensation in 1969,
Saadawi also co-founded a feminist magazine, Confrontation, in 1981, and that year she was imprisoned for crimes against the state. She was released later that year and went on to write one of her seminal works, Memoirs from the Women’s Prison, famously written “with eyebrow pencil and a roll of toilet paper.” It was translated to English by Marilyn Booth.
She appeared as a force in English in the 1980s, with the adapted translation of The Hidden Face of Eve, which Amal Amireh deftly writes about in “Framing Nawal El Saadawi: Arab Feminism in a Transnational World.” After this, she became best-known in the West for her opposition to FGM, although her works framed a much wider critique of patriarchy and capitalism.
Subject to death threats in the 1980s, El Saadawi left Egypt in 1988, for the US, and returned in 1996.
She continued to publish novels in the 1990s and 2000s, as well as essays and autobiography, about feminism, authoritarianism, the destruct effects of capitalism, and women’s health. She became a global icon, named as one of BBC’s “100 women” in 2015 and one of Time magazine’s 100 women of the twentieth century.
Scholar Maya Mikdashi remembered her “loud laugh & her eyes were like fire,” adding, “She was, like all people who shook worlds, impossible to capture[.]”
According to Youm7, El Saadawi had been hospitalized after a recent illness.
“The Death of His Excellency, The Ex-Minister,” trans. Amira Nowaira.
Excerpt from Memoirs from the Women’s Prison, trans. Marilyn Booth
Excerpt from Memoirs of a Woman Doctor, trans. Catherine Cobham
Excerpt from The Circling Song, translator unnamed
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