Nawal El Saadawi is a psychiatrist in Egypt and once, while researching a piece for neurosis amongst Egyptian women she had the opportunity to visit some women in prison, one of whom, Firdaus, stood out so much that after Sharai had finished interviewing her she felt compelled to write her (Firdaus')story. Because she took artistic license with some of the details this is not a true biography but because it is stunningly close to what Firdaus suffered, it truly hits you in the gut
Firdaus was born into a peasant home in Egypt. From a young age she realized that being born a girl was a curse. Women were just property that men owned....chattel. Even their bodies didn't belong to them, but to the men that "kept" them. She was only a little girl when her Uncle's hands would steal to her thighs as she worked on kneading dough for the family meal, and then, when she was not much older she was given in marriage to a grotesquely-ugly man in his '60's who used her for his pleasure and violently beat her when he was in a sour mood. When she ran away she was used again by the man who befriended her and not just that, he allowed his friends to use her too.
After what she had thrust upon her it's no wonder she wandered into prostitution and although that bought her independence all she really wanted to do was to get a job and become a "respectable" person. She soon learned, however, that is far better to be a brazen prostitute than a helpless saint and goes back into prostitution, until she is imprisoned and put to death for a murder that i won't go into here for fear of spoiling your enjoyment of the book.
"Woman At Point Zero" is only 108 pages long, more of a nouvella than a novel, but it packs a punch. Even though the woman is guilty of murder none of us can think of her as a criminal...as her crime is borne of anger at her lifelong mistreatment at the hands of men
Told mostly in the first person, the narrative voice with its rhythm, pace and patterns of repetition, convey an urgency and passion that kept my attention rooted to the book (I read the book, cover to cover, it in about 90 mins or so). The book was written more than 30 years ago but the fact that it continues to resonate with women readers of today shows us that for many women in the world freedom and independence are simply words and nothing that they have truly experienced.
Category: Fiction - Literary
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Publisher: Random House
Pub Date: May 26, 2009
"SO often we're told the woman's stories are unimportant. After all, what does it matter what happens in the main room, in the kitchen, or in the bedroom? Who cares about the relationships between mother, daughter and sister? A baby's illness the sorrows and pains of childbirth, keeping the family together during war, poverty or even in the best of days are considered insignificant compared with the stories of men, who fight against nature to grow their crops, who age battles to secure their homelands, who struggle to look inward in search of the perfect man. " Pearl Louie in "Shanghai Girls" by Lisa See, pg 228
I hate to argue with the protagonist but I think women make infinitely interesting characters because of their ability to endure and bear physical and mental agony despite their delicate appearances. "Shanghai Girls" is a story of two sisters. Pearl and May are ‘beautiful girls’ — models for advertising and calendar posters — but when their father loses not only the family money but also the girls’ savings, he sets them up in arranged marriages with a pair of Chinese brothers from America and so begins the girls' epic journey across the Pacific to America (not an easy feat in those days because the Americans had no interest in taking Chinese people). The story goes on to trace their lives in America so irrevocably different from the High society and glamorous lives they lived in Shanghai and how they walk the tight rope between maintaining their Chinese identity and, yet being afraid of being overly Chinese because of all the discrimination that people from China were exposed to.
This is a truly lovely book...beautiful family drama, multi-dimensional characters and prose that is rich with emotion and replete with everything you need to know about Chinese immigrant families in Los Angeles in the'40s and '50s. Although some parts of the book drag a little, See is such a brilliant narrator of history that you soon get caught up with interrogation games at Angel Island,(like Ellis Island but the immigration processing station in San Francisco Bay Communist witch hunts in in L.A., illegal citizenship and "paper sons", the lure of Hollywood and the importance of proving one's Chinese identity during America's war with the Japanese. If you like historical fiction, you might like this one. I don't think it compares favorably with her previous two novels though.
Author: Martell, Xiaomei
Publication date: 1 April 2009
Food-oirs or food memoirs are are everywhere these days. When I visited our local bookstore recently I was agape at the large space provided to this very popular sub-genre and I can see why...more than anything it is the sight, smell and sound of food that engages so many of our senses. Any wonder then that many of us look at the world through food? Food also teaches us so much about culture. For instance, when I travel my impressions seem to start and end with the food. While my friends are busy clicking photos of monuments, buildings etc, I am most likely noting down recipes or trying the local food because it teaches me so much about the people.
"Lion's Head, Four Happiness" is a sweet account of Xiaomei Martell's childhood in China during the turbulent years of Mao's Cultural Revolution. She was born in 1964 on the borders of the Mongolian steppes. The youngest of four daughters - her name translates as 'Little Sister'. Her family had few material goods.There was a lot of rationing of food in those days and this brought out the creative side of Chinese women because they had to plan the menus carefully.
Unlike most novels set in the time of Mao, politics is peripheral in this one, and understandably so as a child's knowledge of what was going on at that time would be limited. Instead, the readers are treated to a host of Chinese kid memories, like playing "pig toes" with her friends (a game requiring dexterity and coordination); riding on the back of her mother's bicycle reading the revolutionary slogans (her first lessons in literacy as the author likes to call it) and the festivities of the Chinese New Year, especially the making and eating of "jiaozi" or Chinese dumplings. Birthdays, although special, were not celebrated...at the very most the birthday girl or boy would be treated to an extra egg, or a peach if it was in the summer.
The interesting title also happens to be the name of Xiaomei's favourite Chinese dish from the south whose origins can traced back to the sixth century. The Lion's heads were generously-sized meatballs and ‘Four Happiness’ refers to the qualities attributed to the meatballs - affluence, health, harmony, and joyfulness.
All in all this is an enjoyable read...I enjoyed the recipes and the casual way she presented them. Might try making the Chinese tea eggs some day....they sound tasty!