While I like reading translated books (and I made it my personal goal this month to read more translated works – quick update: I am not doing very well, having only read 5 translated books so far), many of these books tend to be serious, heavy reads. Zeina is no exception. It is such a heavy hitter. It took me nearly the whole library-sanctioned three weeks to read. And every time I put it down, I was exhausted, my brain nothing more than scrambled eggs.
And so I present to you, the synopsis from Goodreads. Because that was what made me decide to pick it up:
Bodour, a distinguished literary critic and university professor, carries with her a dark secret. As a young university student, she fell in love with a political activist and gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Zeina, whom she abandoned on the streets of Cairo.
Zeina grows up to become one of Egypt’s most beloved entertainers, despite being deprived of a name and a home. In contrast, Bodour remains trapped in a loveless marriage, pining for her daughter. In an attempt to find solace she turns to literature, writing a fictionalized account of her life. But when the novel goes missing, Bodour is forced on a journey of self discovery, reliving and reshaping her past and her future.
Will Bodour ever discover who stole the novel? Is there any hope of her being reunited with Zeina?
It sounds like a potentially great story, doesn’t it?
Zeina starts out ok enough. Bodour, despite her hard life, is a decent character. She had to abandon her daughter and see her grow up right in her very neighbourhood, and play with her legitimate daughter Mageeda. Her daughter Zeina has this goddess-like aura about her, her gift for music enabling her to blast past her humble background and into the hearts of everyone. Bodour’s husband, a newspaper columnist, is such a loathsome man who cheats on her. Mageeda inherits her writing skills from her parents (if that is possible) and becomes a journalist but seems to be filled with self-loathing. It’s an ugly life.
But the narrative switches too quickly from one character to another, and from childhood to present, and with little warning. I suppose this must be some kind of psychological tactic. To create the confusion in the reader’s mind that Bodour probably feels. There are parts that are repeated and the general feeling while reading it is one of disconnect, of an uneasiness, a disconcertedness. It is an uncomfortable, difficult read. Perhaps it needs someone with better literary understanding? I don’t know. I’m at odds with this book. Is this something that Nawal El Saadawi does with all her fiction? I’m hesitant to pick up another of hers now….
Nawal El Saadawi (born October 27, 1931) is an Egyptian feminist writer, activist, physician and psychiatrist. She has written many books on the subject of women in Islam, paying particular attention to the practice of female genital cutting in her society.
Memoirs of a Woman Doctor (1960, 1980; translated by Catherine Cobham, 1989)
Searching (1968; translated by Shirley Eber, 1991)
The Death of the Only Man in the World (1974; translated by Sherif Hetata, 1985) Published in English under the title God Dies by the Nile
Woman at Point Zero (1975; translated by Sherif Hetata, 1983)
The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World (1977; transl. by Sherif Hetata, 1980)
The Circling Song (1978; transl. by Marilyn Booth, 1989)
Death of an Ex-Minister (1980; transl. by Shirley Eber, 1987)
She Has No Place in Paradise (1979; transl. by Shirley Eber)
Two Women in One (1983; transl. by Osman Nusairi and Jana Gough, 1985)
The Fall of the Imam (1987; transl. by Sherif Hetata, 1988)
Memoirs from the Women’s Prison (1984; transl. by Marilyn Booth, 1994)
The Innocence of the Devil (1994; transl. by Sherif Hetata, 1994)
North/South: The Nawal El Saadawi Reader (1997)
Love in the Kingdom of Oil, translated by Basil Hatim and Malcolm Williams (Saqi Books, 2000)
A Daughter of Isis
Dissidenza e scrittura (2008)
L’amore ai tempi del petrolio, translated by Marika Macco, introduction by Luisa Morgantini, Editrice il Sirente, Fagnano Alto, 2009.