Category Archives: Book Club

Woman at Point Zero – June, 2016

Woman at Point Zero – June, 2016

Woman at Point Zero // Nawal el Saadawi

Nawal el Saadawi is a formidable woman to read about. In the 1950’s she graduated as a medical doctor, challenging the patriarchal and sexist society that characterised the Middle East throughout the last two centuries. From there she became a vocal critic of the repression of women’s rights in Egypt and in Islam generally. She criticised FGM (female genital mutilation), attacked the ‘tool of oppression’ that is the veil and questioned religion’s inability to evolve and even hear critiques. She was imprisoned for these views and she became a figure of subversion or liberation, depending on your political background.

Unlike many figures, such as Simone de Beauvoir or Gloria Steinem, Saadawi’s works were lost to many mainstream readers for too many years. However, her involvement in the Arab Spring and the protests in Tahrir Square have led to a resurrection of her ideas and her writings beyond the Middle East. As a result, both The Hidden Face of Eve and Woman at Point Zero found their way to bookshop shelves as part of the new wave of feminist writings.

Although The Hidden Face of Eve is a fascinating, visceral and shocking exploration of the violence, repression and subjugation of women in Egyptian society, it is the subtlety of Saadawi’s character study in her novel, Woman at Point Zero, that is often more compelling.

In the book we follow the character of Firdaus, a woman on death row in a Cairo prison, facing her last night on Earth before the authorities carry out their judgement on her. She does not speak to anyone or interact with anyone, but when a psychiatrist arrives to interview her, she eventually starts to talk and she tells the story that led her to this cell.

On the face of it the story is a simple one. She suffered an impoverished and neglected childhood in which she saw no life beyond the agriculture and housework that defined the lives of her mother and father. This was her lot in life. But education provided a way out. She believed education would be a way to transcend the limitations imposed on her by society. Throughout the novel you get the sense that education is a beacon for both Saadawi and Firdaus. Through education a woman can achieve more than a patriarchal society dictates she can. However, Firdaus is a woman betrayed. Betrayed by her family, betrayed by her lovers and betrayed by every man she encounters, there is a hollowness to her life that education was not able to overcome.

Instead of being able to dictate her own life she was passed from her family to an old husband and from her husband to the street. From there, with no protection and no means by which to protect herself, prostitution becomes the only way she can have control over her own life. When a woman has no money, is discriminated against and cannot find work, her sexuality and her own body are the only commodity she has to trade. In these moments Firdaus justifies this way of living by arguing that she has control over her life and career, but as we discover this is a fallacy. Like the rest of her life her façade of control is ripped down by a man, who wants to control her.

In the end this forces Firdaus to take drastic action and it leads her to prison. Rooted in the life of a real patient Saadawi encountered during her research, Woman at Point Zero is tragic to read. I read every encounter knowing that the story would lead to Firdaus’ incarceration but hoping that each scene would be the moment she would become free and left to build the world around her in the way she wants. It never is. She is doomed to be subjected to the whims and controls of the men and women in her life. She is only free with her final act, when people fear here and leave her alone.

The novel is honest, it’s real, it’s brutal and one can’t shy away from the reality of life for the Egyptian female. In this it is a total triumph. In 160 pages you sympathise with Firdaus, cry with her and you are shocked by every move that takes you further down her tragic story. Despite its sparse prose it has a huge reach and is undoubtedly one of the defining pieces of feminist works to emerge out of the last century.

Woman at Point Zero

RRP: £9.99 // Zed Books Ltd. // 2015

Book of the Month: March, 2016 – Apostle

Book of the Month: March, 2016 – Apostle

Apostle – Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve // Tom Bissell Apostle [uh–pos–uh l]  “any of the original 12 disciples called by Jesus to preach the gospel: Simon Peter, the brothers James and John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alpheus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas Iscariot”.  The history of Christianity is peppered with claims,… Continue Reading

Book of the Year: 2015

Book of the Year: 2015

Book of the Year Winner: SPQR by Mary Beard The best history books do one of two things. They either capture the period, event, person or idea that they have set out to detail or they become a grand body of work that opens up the mysteries of the past and help to explain our present.… Continue Reading

Book of the Month: September, 2015 – Nemesis

Book of the Month: September, 2015 – Nemesis

Glenny’s book is a rare piece of journalism that opens up the world of the cocaine trade to the reader through the life of ‘Nem’, one of Rio’s most influential and powerful drug lords. But beyond the drugs trade the book is a real critique and study of modern Brazil and the problems it faces. Inequality and wealth, poverty and rapid development, crime and corruption. Continue Reading

Book of the Month: June, 2015 – Headscarves and Hymens

Book of the Month: June, 2015 – Headscarves and Hymens

Mona Eltahawy aims to be provocative. She wants to tear apart the structure of Middle Eastern society that has developed over the last few centuries. By tearing it apart she hopes that she can liberate the female population, who have been subject to sexual harassment, rape, forced marriage and a myriad of other controls, restriction and limitations. It’s an ambitious plan and although its strong and brilliant rhetoric, at times Headscarves and Hymens fails to meet the lofty heights which Eltahawy has set herself. Continue Reading

Book of the Month: May, 2015 – Farewell Kabul

Book of the Month: May, 2015 – Farewell Kabul

Farewell Kabul // Christina Lamb “In Afghanistan, you don’t understand yourself solely as an individual. You understand yourself as a son, a brother, a cousin to somebody, an uncle to somebody. You are part of something bigger than yourself.” – Khaled Hosseini Afghanistan has woven itself into the fabric of modern life, with entire generations,… Continue Reading

Book of the Month: April, 2015 – Flash Boys

Book of the Month: April, 2015 – Flash Boys

Flash Boys is a story of shocking truths, desperate capitalism and an unbalanced financial system that will surprise every reader. It cements Lewis’s reputation as one of the world’s leading journalists and you start to understand what the hell happened to the international finance system since the global crisis started in 2008. Continue Reading

Book of the Month: March, 2015 – Blueprint for Revolution

Book of the Month: March, 2015 – Blueprint for Revolution

After leading the Otpor! movement to topple Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, Srdja Popovic, uses Blueprint for Revolution explores the power of non-violent protest. From the cottage cheese protests of Israel to Pussy Riot in Russia, Popovic uses his first hand understanding of protest to demonstrate how even the smallest person can change politics, and often not in the most conventional of ways. Continue Reading

Book of the Month: Jan, 2015 – Guantanamo Diary

Book of the Month: Jan, 2015 – Guantanamo Diary

Some books make a huge impact on the world because of the words they contain and the power these words have to influence. Others tell a great story; a story that needs to be told. Guantanamo Diary goes one step further than all of these because the story of its publication is just as fascinating and necessary a story to tell. In a story of rendition and imprisonment; brutality and torture there is also a story about fighting for the right to speak and the right to highlight abuses of power. Continue Reading

Book of the Year: 2014

Book of the Year: 2014

Book of the Year Winner: Dear Leader by Jang Jin-Sung The best and most intriguing books are those that reveal something unique about the world; something that enthralls, entrances and shocks us. In Dear Leader, Jang opens up the North Korean state to the reader. Notoriously repressive and heavily censored, very little genuine knowledge has ever been revealed about… Continue Reading

Book of the Month: Nov, 2014 – Discontent and its Civilisations

Book of the Month: Nov, 2014 – Discontent and its Civilisations

Discontent and its Civilisations // Mohsin Hamid “It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement – that they seek power, success and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life.” – Sigmund Freud, Civilisations and its Discontents In… Continue Reading

Book of the Month: Oct, 2014 – Lists of Note

Book of the Month: Oct, 2014 – Lists of Note

Lists of Note is more than a simple collection of the lists of the rich and famous, it is an intimate look at the lives of the people who wrote them. Shaun Usher follows his highly successful book, Letters of Note, with a second collection of literary gems that is just as beautiful and intriguing as his first. Just as Usher did with with Letters of Note he drew on the support of the public to create this finished, published product and the dedication and effort but into the book is clear to every reader. Continue Reading