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Walking Through Fire: A Life of Nawal El Saadawi (2002)

de Nawal El Saadawi

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In A Daughter of Isis, Nawal El Saadawi painted a beautifully textured portrait of the childhood that moulded her into a novelist and fearless campaigner for freedom and the rights of women. Walking through Fire takes up the story of her extraordinary life. Famous for her novels, short stories and writings on women, Saadawi is known as the first Arab woman to have written about sex and its relation to economics and politics. Imprisoned under Sadat for her opinions, she has continued to fight against all forms of discrimination based on class, gender, nationality, race or religion. This autobiography shows the passion for justice that has shaped her life and her writing. We read about her as a rural doctor, trying to help a young girl escape from a terrible fate imposed on her by a brutal male tyranny. We follow her attempts to set up women's organizations and to publish magazines later banned by the authorities or endangered by fundamentalist threats. We travel with her into exile after the publication of her name on a death list. We witness her first marriage to a freedom fighter hounded into drug addiction by a system that has no mercy. We share her struggle against her 'false self' and a second husband who offers her financial security and comfort - provided she stops writing. We live the beautiful moments of her third marriage with a man released after fourteen years of imprisonment and hard labour - their love, companionship and shared struggle. Nawal El Saadawi has carved a place for herself in the universal struggle against oppression. 'Words should not seek to please, to hide the wounds in our bodies, or the shameful moments in our lives', she says. 'They may hurt, give us pain, but they can also provoke us to question what we have accepted for thousands of years.'… (més)
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Because Walking Through Fire is memoir it is impossible for me to separate it from the factual details of Nawal El Saadawi’s life. While reading it I had an urge to learn more about her—and about the times in which she’s lived—in order to better understand who she was and why things happened to (and around) her as they did. Three main themes run through Walking Through Fire: exile, resistance, and feminism. Coupled with exile and resistance is the powerful idea of writing as a means of having a voice even when one has been exiled and one’s power has been taken away. Writing, then, is a means of resistance, and sharing one’s story with others is a means of empowerment and also motivation to others to seek their own empowerment. Feminism and women’s rights are also joined with ideas of empowerment and resistance, and tainted (to a degree) by religious ideologies that run counter to concepts of rights for women.

Nawal El Saadawi is an exile in many ways. She is exiled from her country when her name appears on a death list for being a heretic and she is also in some ways in exile from herself. On page 1 she takes us through a morning in 1993, she stretches, she rises, she refers to herself as “I” and we, the readers, know who we are experiencing this with. Then, curiously, she writes “I look down at her feet” (1). She is looking at her own feet, yet suddenly she distances herself from this woman. But why? Is it because she is reminded of her resemblance to her grandmother and her past in Kafr Tahla? Even in her memories she is separate from her own country during this time of exile.

She is also an exile because she was born a woman. Female children are not celebrated as male children are, and while pregnant with her own daughter she wonders “Why should my presence in the world be a cause for sadness in the family?” (65) and vows to celebrate her child, should she be a daughter. When she is engaged to Ahmed Helmi he gives her a ring but not the traditional shabka (a gift of necklace, bracelet, and/or earrings, literally meaning “the hook”) and her mother is horrified, worried about what people might think. Her friends are nearly as horrified, wondering what she is thinking, marrying a man who does not give her this traditional gift as an expression of financial stability.She, however, sees it differently, writing “The word shabka filled me with terror. Was I being hooked to the bridegroom?” (36)

Women are not valued in many ways in Egyptian society. They are to obey their husbands under Islamic law and El Saadawi is not pleased with this or other facets of this family law. “Honour was always linked to the behavior of women, to a particular part in the lower half of their bodies.” (63) Men have the right to kill their wives if they commit adultery and men also have the right to take multiple wives. El Saadawi chafes under this—and other—double standards. She is a doctor, she wants to be above and beyond a family law that treats her like a child or someone who is mentally defective and unable to care for him or herself.

Truly, though, Nawal El Saadawi is a resistor. When she relates to us (through her writing) the memory of her husband Ahmed Helmi choking her and trying to kill her she writes of how she does not call out for assistance: “Since childhood I had never called out for help. Instead I thought of ways to resist, or to escape.” (157) She uses her writing as a way to resist all the exiles in her life. “After leaving Egypt I started to write. The threat of death seemed to give my life a new importance, made it worth writing about.” (3) The reason behind why she writes instead of resisting in other ways is made clear in a section of the book on pages 162-163 when she discusses book burning with her friend Samia. Samia fears that Nawal’s books will burnt and Nawal says to let them burn because it does not matter. They engage in a conversation about where books are now stored, they are no longer only paper, they are not in computers, they are stored “on tablets of material which does not burn” kept in heaven. Samia thinks she means that books are stored in God’s keeping, but Nawal does not. She talks of storage on disc and how “millions of copies can spread out across space like viruses and be multiplied endlessly…” (163) “But what is most important,” she says, “is that books can no longer be burned.” ( )
  tldegray | Sep 21, 2018 |
In this 2nd part of her autobiography Nawal El Saadawi brings together thoughts on and descriptions of encounters, persons and events, at times with a bitter sarcasm like describing the behaviour of families visiting their family-graves (161, pages refer to the 2018 Zed Books edition) or of Captain Ala’a viciously beating a boy volunteer suffering from pellagra (115); She writes of her time as the medical doctor in her ancestral village and tells the story of being prevented from rescuing the girl Masouda from an abusive marriage (Ch.5); she writes of the extraordinary women she encounters (Om Ibrahim, then later Om Al-Fida’iyeen whom she brings back to life in her novel ‘The well of life’ (269), the encounter the night he dies with the young fighter Ghassam who had lost both his legs and an arm (270f); she talks of her two failed marriages - into the 2nd one she goes against her better intuition - the contradiction: „a need for company while yearning for solitude?“, she asks herself - and that she had to fight him to get a divorce (She had not forgotten her father saying: „If the price we pay for freedom is high, we pay a much higher price if we accept to be slaves“, 228), then meeting Sherif Hetata imprisoned for 15 years, her 3rd husband; about her feelings and different reactions at the death of her mother and 4 months later at the sudden death of her father.

Again and again the eyes: Her first silent encounter with Ahmed Helmi back in Nov. 1951 (39ff) of „eyes meeting that belonged to another world … outside time and place and words.“ She writes about the understanding or lack of it, in the eyes: the eyes of her 2nd husband: „There is no light in them.“ (203) - she wonders: was it the loss of hope in the class that rules Egypt and the despair: only prison, death or exile that was waiting for them, that was driving her towards marriage as a way out? (206) - ; how different her first meeting with Sherif: „I looked into his eyes. They were like windows wide open onto what was inside.“ (234); also Ghassam the night he was dying „staring at me with [his] one eye that gleamed like a star in the dark night.“ (272)

She writes about politics and religion, about the wars (1948, 1951, 1956, 1967,1973). Om Ibrahim: ‘our country is like a monster. It devours its own children.’ (121); ‘divorce is the prerogative of men only’ (228); adoption is forbidden in Islam (129); God does not forgive those who worship other gods, yet he is prepared to forgive any other sin, his authority as the one and only god is more important than principles of justice and mercy. (141f). She is tired of lies, of words which conceal the truth; she travels to Jordan in 1968 in the hope to find a genuineness of spirit amongst the Palestinians fighting for a homeland from which they had been driven away 266f).

El-Saadawi has written about the Egyptian Revolution Jan./ Feb. 2011 when there was still hope: http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/5640.aspx
(VII-18) ( )
  MeisterPfriem | Jul 30, 2018 |
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Saadawi, Nawal Elautor primaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Hetata, SherifIntroduccióautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Walker, RebeccaPròlegautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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In A Daughter of Isis, Nawal El Saadawi painted a beautifully textured portrait of the childhood that moulded her into a novelist and fearless campaigner for freedom and the rights of women. Walking through Fire takes up the story of her extraordinary life. Famous for her novels, short stories and writings on women, Saadawi is known as the first Arab woman to have written about sex and its relation to economics and politics. Imprisoned under Sadat for her opinions, she has continued to fight against all forms of discrimination based on class, gender, nationality, race or religion. This autobiography shows the passion for justice that has shaped her life and her writing. We read about her as a rural doctor, trying to help a young girl escape from a terrible fate imposed on her by a brutal male tyranny. We follow her attempts to set up women's organizations and to publish magazines later banned by the authorities or endangered by fundamentalist threats. We travel with her into exile after the publication of her name on a death list. We witness her first marriage to a freedom fighter hounded into drug addiction by a system that has no mercy. We share her struggle against her 'false self' and a second husband who offers her financial security and comfort - provided she stops writing. We live the beautiful moments of her third marriage with a man released after fourteen years of imprisonment and hard labour - their love, companionship and shared struggle. Nawal El Saadawi has carved a place for herself in the universal struggle against oppression. 'Words should not seek to please, to hide the wounds in our bodies, or the shameful moments in our lives', she says. 'They may hurt, give us pain, but they can also provoke us to question what we have accepted for thousands of years.'

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Edicions: 1842770772, 1842770764, 1848132298, 1848132301, 1848138008

 

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