Friday, September 22, 2006
The Almond by Nedjma
The Almond by Nedjma
Translated from the French by C. Jane Hunter
Grove Press, 2005
This book, according to its publishers, is about the sexual awakening of a young Arab woman. The woman in question is a 17-year girl from a traditional North African Berber village who after spending 5 years as wife #3 to a much older man in a terrible, loveless marriage, runs away to the big city of Tangiers to live with her fun-loving aunt Selma. In Tangiers she meets a man who sweeps her off her feet and engages her in a passionate and torrid love affair. It is at this point that the book disintegrates into the young woman's audacious celebration of her varied sexual adventures. Don't get me wrong, the prose on every passion-soaked page is beautiful, (and the passages on self-love are very interesting) but how much of it do we need to read in order to grasp that here was a woman rebelling against her repressive upbringing? To me, it was made abundantly clear after her first sexual encounter, I certainly didn't need to read about 15 other ones!
There have been many books on sexual awakenings, "The Sexual Life of Catherine M" by Catherine Miller is one that comes to mind, but "The Almond" has generated the most buzz because the sex life of a Muslim women is not often the subject of contemporary literature. "The Almond" went flying off the shelves in Europe, the readers hoping perhaps that Nedjma, the author, might might open a window into a closed world, however, it appears to me that the content, especially descriptions of some of the barbaric rituals inflicted on young, African Muslim girls were written for shock value with the explicit and almost pornographic sex scenes included only to titillate.
I don't mean to put you off the book, but do be warned that this book is quite graphic - like one Amazon reviewer puts it, "...this book is simply a catalogue of every kinky sexual activity one could think up" What redeems it is its sometimes exquisite prose, the cultural commentary on the women in rural Morocco and ummmm, the cover. Sorry, couldn't think of a third redeeming factor, but now that I've mentioned the cover, I think it was quite a clever idea to have the woman swathed in cloth with her head and feet covered - symbolising her repression perhaps? But then I notice that the belly has been left exposed, so are we being prompted to see her just as a body, a piece of meat and not as a person? Upon further reflection I think the cover was the most interesting part of the book.
For further reading - Moorish Girl
& fellow blogger, An Academic Life
Addendum: Who is Nedjma? Noone really knows. Nedjma is a pseudonym. The author has never revealed her real name, never been photographed and her family and close friends are not aware of the book she has written. The few details we have of her tell us she's in her early forties, is unmarried and childless and has a white collar job that allows her to travel often to Europe. She will never reveal her identity for fear of reprisals from Islamic fundamentalists.