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Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi Review

Title: Woman at Point Zero

Author: Nawal El Saadawi

First published January 1, 1977

128 pages, Paperback

ISBN: 9780862321109 (ISBN10: 0862321107)

Rating: 4.15


In the pages of Woman at Point Zero, Firdaus shares her harrowing journey from a rural upbringing to a life of prostitution in the city streets. Facing a death sentence for killing her pimp in Cairo, Firdaus embraces the ultimate punishment as her chance for liberation.

Her story is a powerful reflection on the societal pressures that push women into desperate situations and the lengths they must go to in order to break free.

About the Author

Nawal El Saadawi was born in a small village outside Cairo in 1931. Growing up, she and her siblings were educated together, which was uncommon at the time.

She went on to study at the University of Cairo Medical School, specializing in psychiatry, and graduated in 1955. For two years, she practiced medicine both at the university and in her hometown of Tahla.

From 1963 to 1972, Saadawi served as Director General for Public Health Education for the Egyptian government. During this time, she also pursued a Master of Public Health degree at Columbia University in New York, which she received in 1966.

She published her first novel, Memoirs of a Woman Doctor, in 1958. However, in 1972, she was dismissed from her government job due to political pressure, and the magazine she had founded and edited, Health, was shut down.

From 1973 to 1978, Saadawi worked at the High Institute of Literature and Science, where she began writing about the oppression of Arab women, both in fiction and non-fiction. Her most well-known novel, Woman at Point Zero, was published in Beirut in 1973.

She went on to publish God Dies by the Nile in 1976 and The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World in 1977.

In 1981, Saadawi publicly criticized the one-party rule of President Anwar Sadat and was arrested and imprisoned. She was released a month after his assassination.

In 1982, she founded the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association, which was later outlawed in 1991. After her name appeared on a fundamentalist death list in 1988, she and her second husband fled to the USA, where she taught at Duke University and Washington State University.

She returned to Egypt in 1996.

Saadawi ran for the Egyptian presidential elections in 2004 with a platform of human rights, democracy, and greater freedom for women. However, she was forced to withdraw her candidacy due to government persecution.

She has received many accolades for her work and holds honorary doctorates from several universities, including York, Illinois at Chicago, St Andrews, and Tromso. Her books have been translated into over 28 languages and are taught in universities around the world.

Today, Saadawi works as a writer, psychiatrist, and activist. Her most recent novel was published in Cairo in 2004.

Editoral Review

Nawal El Saadawi’s groundbreaking novel, Woman at Point Zero, published in 1977, remains a powerful and relevant work to this day. A feminist writer and activist, El Saadawi has written over 50 books in Arabic and English, and is widely recognized as one of Egypt’s most important literary figures.

The novel is set in Egypt, where the main character, Firdaus, is a young woman living a life of poverty and oppression. Firdaus endures multiple hardships, including physical abuse, sexual exploitation, and societal prejudice, all of which lead her to question the very nature of existence.

After being forced into prostitution, she ultimately finds herself on death row, where she awaits her execution. The story is based on El Saadawi’s real-life encounter with a woman on death row whom she visited while working as a psychiatrist in a Cairo prison.

It is a compelling and deeply moving account of one woman’s struggle to assert her own autonomy and overcome the social and cultural constraints that thwart her. El Saadawi’s writing style is complex and layered, shifting between Firdaus’s internal monologue and external events.

The prose is both poetic and raw, evoking a vivid picture of the harsh reality of life in Egypt, particularly for women. The novel challenges the reader to confront the brutal realities of gender-based violence, oppression, and the systemic issues that conspire against women in patriarchal societies.

Through Firdaus’s story, El Saadawi exposes the underlying psychological, social, and cultural factors that create a culture of powerlessness for women in Egypt, and the lengths they must go to, to find even a modicum of agency. Although over 40 years have passed since its initial publication, Woman at Point Zero still resonates today.

The themes of the novel are unfortunately still relevant, as gender inequality and violence against women remain pressing issues worldwide. The book also offers insight into the complexities of what would later be termed “intersectionality,” the intersection of race, gender, and class, and how these factors work together to create unique forms of oppression.

El Saadawi’s feminist world view, her critique of the patriarchal system and her focus on the victimization of women make this novel an important addition to any reading list. Woman at Point Zero is a powerful book that will leave an indelible impression on the mind of its readers, and is highly recommended for anyone looking to expand their knowledge of the human experience.

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