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June 4, 2011 12:38 am

Zeina

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Zeina, by Nawal el Saadawi, translated by Amira Nowaira, Saqi, RRP£8.99, 267 pages

 

Nawal el Saadawi is a controversial figure in Egypt: a feminist, activist novelist whose works have provoked censure (and censorship) from the political and religious establishments. You don’t have to be an imam or a government official, however, to be provoked by Zeina: being male is enough.

First published in Lebanon in 2009, this bilious novel tells the tale of Bodour, a respected literary critic, who as a young woman abandons her illegitimate daughter on a Cairo street. The child, Zeina, grows up to become a musical star, while Bodour endures a loveless marriage to a newspaper columnist and spends her nights writing a novel in which she tries to assuage her guilt.

Institutionalised sexual and religious hypocrisy are the targets. But the line between characterisation and character assassination is thin. Almost every man in this book is a rapist or a paedophile, suggesting a lack of discrimination that compromises el Saadawi’s assault on the patriarchy.

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