This morning, I finally finished A Daughter of Isis: The Autobiography of Nawal el Saadawi. Nawal el Saadawi is an Egyptian feminist and activist living in exile in the US. She has had an incredible life; one of those lives that inspire and are like a rallying call to arms against injustice and prejudice. She was brought up in a society where women were, and still are, considered inferior in every way: breeding and housekeeping machines. She began life in a little village where she struggled against efforts to marry her off at the age of 10, where she had to fight to be heard or seen, where she wanted education more than anything else. Her life has been a fight – a fight against male and patriarchal expectations, against her religion, despite believing in her God, questioning why she and the women around her are considered inferior.
What I loved about this first part of her autobiography was her descriptions – her descriptions of people, of places, of moods and emotions. She has a beautiful lyrical and flowing style of writing, one that seems like poetry. She makes it a pleasure to read her life story, even with the hard, painful and destroying moments, the parts that made me squirm and feel sad. She envelopes you in her life, holds your hand and shows you with her eyes what life is like and has been like for women in Egypt. All through the book I felt her courage, her burning passion to survive and live, to experience and learn more about the world around her. This is the beginning of her life journey – from her forced female circumcision at age 6, all the way through to her beginning years at University, studying medicine and anatomy. I found parts of it a little hard to get through, but she became a friend, so you want to know what happens to her next. In many respects the things that happen to her and the things going on around her are alien to me; yet I could relate to her in some intrinsic way, perhaps because she is a writer and has a love of language and literature. She knows the love a good book can give you, the lure of the pen making marks on paper.
Throughout the book there is also accounts of her first demonstrations, an insiders experience and view of the political situation in Egypt. As an English person, I felt shame that the British had occupied Egypt for so long, I felt as though I wanted to protest myself. She feels a great love for her nation, a love that overflows when she takes part in demonstrations. I have never felt that much pride or love for my nation; perhaps because I am disillusioned with politics and with all the bad news filtering through the TV. I love living here, in a place that is supposedly democratic and in London, which is multicultural and buzzing; yet I don’t know if ‘pride’ is the right word to describe what I feel.
The next part of Nawal el Saadawi’s autobiography is called Walking Through Fire – I’m hoping to read it sometime later this year.
Memory is never complete. There are always parts of it that time has amputated. Writing is a way of retrieving them, of bringing the missing parts back to it, of making it more holistic. – Nawal el Saadawi, A Daughter of Isis.