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Woman at Point Zero

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  9,374 ratings  ·  1,273 reviews
From her prison cell, Firdaus, sentenced to die for having killed a pimp in a Cairo street, tells of her life from village childhood to city prostitute. Society's retribution for her act of defiance - death - she welcomes as the only way she can finally be free.
Paperback, 112 pages
Published September 15th 1997 by Zed Books (first published 1975)
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Nahret She is the doctor who regularly goes to see patients at the women's prison where Firdaus is held. She becomes the audience for Firdaus to tell her…moreShe is the doctor who regularly goes to see patients at the women's prison where Firdaus is held. She becomes the audience for Firdaus to tell her story to. (less)
IMAOBONG Richman How does Nawal portray motherhood in Woman at Point Zero?

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Feb 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“A new world was opening up in front of my eyes, a world which for me had not existed before. Maybe it had always been there, always existed, but I had never seen it, never realized it had been there all the time. How was it that I had been blind to its existence all these years?”- Nawal El Saadawi, Woman at Point Zero

I was told by a friend that the German title for this book is translated as “I Spit on You,” and it makes a lot of sense after you read the book, because that will probably be
Jun 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I was surprised when I saw the rating for Woman at Point Zero . To me, it was a solid five-star book. When I scrolled through the reviews, I noticed many, many five star and four star reviews, but there was a pervasive theme of how she seemed unrelatable and fake. I completely disagree.

First of all, Woman at Point Zero is a short read, 114 pages at the most. In three chapters, Firdaus' life story is framed by the author's own narrative, which develops from vaguely superior and curious to
Revisiting my Nobels always also includes guessing and hoping for a favourite to receive this year's award. Nawal El-Saadawi has been on my wish list for the Nobel Prize in Literature for many, many years, ever since she dragged me into the scary universe of Two Women in One, showing the double life of women in Egypt, conforming to rules set by men while letting their creativity and independence gain power within their own minds.

The Swedish Academy being what it is, it would be completely
Oct 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I was hoping that Saadawi would win the Nobel Prize this time round; sadly it wasn’t to be. However I suspect she was not surprised, as she says;
“I am still ignored by big literary powers in the world, because I write in Arabic, and also because I am critical of the colonial, capitalist, racist, patriarchal mind set of the super-powers.”
However she is much more than just a novelist/writer; she originally trained as a doctor, then went into politics (Public Health). She lost her job because of
Amal Bedhyefi
Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you live in an Arab Muslim country , you would have probably heard of Nawel Saadaoui once in your lifetime.
I know I have.
But it took me a while until I decided to pick up one of her books and it is mainly thanks to Ilham , a dear friend of mine , who recommended it to me.
I opened the first pages , started reading and next thing i know , there are no pages left for me to read.
It's heartbreaking , deeply uncomfortable and mournful.
Ferdaous's story is definitely one of those stories that need
Apr 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've loved this slim novel since I read it for the first time in an undergrad literature class. It's beautifully written, addictive as heck and features a harrowing main character. It's simply written and that gives room for the complex narrative (this my favorite type of writing). This book was an enormous influence on my own novel Who Fears Death. And rereading it really reminded me why.
This review could probably just read:

Men suck.

But then that wouldn't cover the fact that sometimes women do too. But:

Men suck (and sometimes women as well)

doesn't have the same punchiness.

Really though, in this story by Nawal El-Saadawi men do suck. Lots. Whether you are a poor uneducated brute or a more educated sophisticated man; whether you are a pimp or a prince, a near relation or a policeman, if you are a man it is a given that you are going to seriously suck at some point. Sometimes it
Nov 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Now I had learnt that honor required large sums of money to protect it, but that large sums of money could not be obtained without losing one's honor. An infernal circle whirling round and round, draggng me up and down with it.

Woman at Point Zero is a harrowing Candide for our post-liberal musing. While reading it we should all be ashamed. No one should take pride in the closing of workhouses, the confinement has happened elsewhere, outsourced to favelas and shanties. Don't linger excessively
Samantha C Basalari
(If you want something general, don't read this, I'll spoil it)
In the beginning, Firdaus’ uncle is semi progressive. He reads to her and sends her to school. He isn’t completely bad until he atrociously takes advantage of the person who needs him the most. In the novel, Saadawi illustrates how men are torn between progress and the backlash of their own sexual frustration and need for power. There is a lot of preaching, little enforcement, and women are mistreated and silenced by societal
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: translated
Review originally posted on A Skeptical Reader.

Woman at Point Zero follows the life of Firdaus, a woman awaiting execution, from her youth to her present condition. It’s a novel that plunges deep into the pit of patriarchy, abuse of power, failures of feminism, and the sex workers industry.

El-Saawadi’s narration is clever and precise. At times she infuses a formal mechanism to her poetic form that is both beautiful and horrific to read. It was frustrating that while she can be quite vivid in
In the early 1970s, Nawal El Saadawi lost her job as the Director of Health Education and Editor-in-Chief of Health magazine because she did something really horrible: She wrote a book about women and sex.


She turned to the research of neuroses in Egyptian women which led her to meet a doctor at an Egyptian prison who would talk to her about his experiences and some of the inmates. Through this friendship with the doctor, she met Firdaus, a woman imprisoned for killing a man. Firdaus was
Jim Fonseca
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This translation by an Egyptian female author gives us a traumatic picture of how a young woman is brutalized physically and mentally by just about every man, relative or stranger, that she runs into. She runs away from a brutal husband and becomes a prostitute to survive. At first she turns cheap tricks but later she learns to turn men down, becoming more exclusive and expensive, raising the level of her clientele. She works her way up to being a prostitute who caters to the wealthy political ...more
Jul 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Firdaus is in a womans prison, awaiting execution for murder. She is visited by a prison doctor and tells the story of her life. It is a bleak tale, encompassing the death of her parents when she was but a child, rape and exploitation, marriage to a repulsive old skinflint, prostitution, a sojourn in an office and a heartbreaking love story, with the finale being the stabbing to death of her pimp.

At times she seems to be just about to break out of her fate - particularly when she finds love with
My virtue, like the virtue of all those who are poor, could never be considered a quality, or an asset, but rather looked upon as a kind of stupidity, or simple-mindedness, to be despised even more than depravity or vice.
Nearly three years between adding this and reading this was long enough to shift from being myopically proud of my "cultivated" tastes to becoming suspicious of why I'd want this author in particular to win the Nobel Prize for Lit without having even read them. There's nothing
Sheharzad ⚘
Sep 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone, no matter who or what you are
Some themes may be triggering for readers. Rape, sexual, physical, mental, and domestic abuse are recurrent themes. Yet, this is a powerful and necessary book. Read at your own discretion.
Alright, kids, let's get down to business.

Basically, this book made my feminist heart GLEE. And I'm a bundle of sorrow for our narrator Firdaus and a raging hellhound for the scumbags that call themselves "men" in this book (don't get me wrong, I know epic, wonderful men and they all hold a special place in
Claire McAlpine
Nawal El Saadawi is an internationally renowned writer, novelist and fighter for woman's rights, who was born in a village outside Cairo, Egypt. When she was practicing as a psychiatrist in the 1970's she had the opportunity while conducting research into the neurosis of Egyyptian women, to meet with a woman who had been imprisoned for killing a man, a woman who was to be executed by hanging. The woman had refused to speak to anyone until that point, had also refused to sign an appeal to the ...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
My first YA book for young girls, and had helped girls finish college and avoid early marriages and teen pregnancies.

"Firdaus" is its alternative title because it is based on a real character by that name, an Egyptian woman who was imprisoned and executed in 1974. She had suffered physical and emotional abuse from all the men in her life: from her own father, her husband, her customers as a prostitute and her last tormentor, the pimp whom she killed and for which crime she lost her life. The
3.5 stars.

As expected, this was a difficult read. Firdaus’ life is composed of a series of events rooted in misogyny that reduce her to a sexual object, whether it is the sexual abuse she faces as a child and later on during her marriage to a much older man or at the hands of unknown men in Cairo. She is eventually “rescued” by a woman who pushes her into a life of prostitution. There are fleeting moments in Firdaus’ life where she exercises agency but they never last until the final and
Feb 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"I have triumphed over both life and death because I no longer desire to live, nor do I any longer fear death. I want nothing. I hope for nothing. Therefore I am free. For during life it is our wants, our hopes, our fears that enslave us. The freedom I enjoy fills them (the patriarchy) with anger."
I could not help but make a strong connection between the main character Firdous and Camus's philosophical approach to The Myth of Sisyphus. Firdous truly is, as El Saadawi concludes, "more
Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
It's pretty sad when a woman lives in a society in which she feels that she's best off if she's a prostitute! Firdaus is a victim of the Egyptian culture around her, which allows men to beat women and where girls are valued mainly for their reproductive and servile qualities. Firdaus longs for true freedom to decide her own fate. During most of this story, however, her fate is controlled by others--her father, her husband, her pimp, the man who gives her shelter, the woman Sharifa. Even those, ...more
Feb 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book deserves a solid five stars, I thought it was wonderful! Basically, the story is said by the main character, Firdaus, which takes place in the second chapter, but it's her speaking to a doctor that wants to learn about her life. In this book, you learn about a girl that gets abused by men, at a young age, she was taken advantage of by a boy and his uncle because she was still too young to understand the private parts that she should be aware of. Hey uncle would secretly touch her above ...more
Jan 19, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies, fiction
This novel (described as 'creative non-fiction' in the Foreword) probably describes the grievous and appalling conditions facing millions of women and children around the world today. The subject matter and message are important, but as a novel, it didn't hit the right spot for me.

There are quite a few instances where entire passages are repeated or substantially reproduced with only some minor word changes. Struck with a sense of deja vu, at first I thought I had somehow accidentally flipped to
Aug 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
"I knew that my profession had been invented by men, and that men were in control of both our worlds, the one on earth, and the one in heaven. That men force women to sell their bodies at a price, and that the lowest paid body is that of a wife. All women are prostitutes of one kind or another. Because I was intelligent I preferred to be a free prostitute, rather than an enslaved wife."

Powerfully evocative. Powerfully true. A society that teaches this, that condones this, is powerfully wrong.
Azra Šabovic
Oct 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I am very glad I have had the pleasure of reading one of the, definitely, captivating books. I do not usually write the reviews for the books, but this one deserves to be memorized and taken to heart.

In the novel “Woman at Point Zero”, El Saadawi uses the shifts in the symbol of money that mirrors shifts in characterization of Firdaus. Using the motif of rebirth in order to show how the character grew despite her cruel world of injustice. Despite the many bad times, in the end, Firdaus is
Zainab Sulaiman
Apr 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really liked this book. It was a lot to take in. At several points I was like "ok things have to get better for Firdaus." (even though the ending is already clear- she's in jail). Seriously wondering why this book was not a reading for my Global Feminisms course in university. Recommended for anyone particularly interested in the various ways women cope or not with the trauma they face.
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars.

Around the 25% mark, I became utterly grossed in this fever-dreamish book about a woman's path to her liberation.
Jan 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: stand-alones
Woman at Point Zero is the story of Firdaus, a girl born in Egypt to a poor family. Even though she is intelligent, resourceful, and ambitious, there aren’t a lot of choices for her as a woman in her society. She is fortunate to have a secondary school certificate, but after being abused by family members, strangers and even her husband, she realizes that being a prostitute is a better way of living - at least she chooses how to live and chooses her own worth. Firdaus tells the story in prison, ...more
Libre Livre
Aug 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
*Spoilers below are NOT specific but may serve as content warnings*

Strange how a book can at once be a simple and complicated read! Signs of a master craft.

I enjoyed El-Saadawi’s tale for its intimate exploration of one woman’s life. There is no doubt that this is a feminist classic; themes of misogyny (incl. rape, physical abuse, involuntary sex work and general subjugation) dominate throughout these pages. There was a lyrical approach to the storytelling (e.g. a lot of repetitive gestures,
Wow !
What a book.
There aren't a huge amount of Egyptian militant feminists but Nawal was one early on in life and at 86 has held on to her beliefs of women's rights and freedom in Egypt. She was even jailed for those beliefs at one time.

This book was a shot of adrenalin to the brain or heart, depending on if you are a thinker or a feeler. It deals with a molested, unloved, neglected child born to illiterate peasant parents and how she found her way into prostitution, subjects that are forbidden
Mar 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone!
So much is packed into this tiny little book, it’s unbelievable. The character’s voice still resonates with me to this day. In some respects, I absolutely loathed who she was and what she represented. Or perhaps it was just the intensity and rawness of the author’s description that still sends chills up my spine…Either way, this was one of the best books I’ve ever read. Truly – it is a must-read for all!
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Nawal El Saadawi (Arabic: نوال السعداوي) was born in 1931, in a small village outside Cairo. Unusually, she and her brothers and sisters were educated together, and she graduated from the University of Cairo Medical School in 1955, specializing in psychiatry. For two years, she practiced as a medical doctor, both at the university and in her native Tahla.

From 1963 until 1972, Saadawi worked as
“Life is very hard. The only people who really live are those who are harder than life itself.” 1707 likes
“They said, “You are a savage and dangerous woman.”
I am speaking the truth. And the truth is savage and dangerous.”
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