Middle East/North African Lit discussion

The Green Bicycle
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2018 > The Green Bicycle by Haifaa Al Mansour

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message 1: by Melanie, Marhaba Language Expertise (new) - added it

Melanie (magidow) | 657 comments Mod
Dear All,

I've just started reading The Green Bicycle by Haifaa al Mansour, and I can report that so far it's very light and fun if you enjoy YA literature and you have any interest in what it would be like to grow up in Saudi Arabia. The text flows easily, and the main character is a misfit, intelligent and critical of what goes on around her. In that sense, it reminds me of books like Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow (From the perspective of an Algerian-French girl, translated from French).

This books looks like a great summer read, raising questions about social priorities and the freedom to dream outside the box. Looking forward to your comments...


Jalilah | 813 comments I plan on reading it next week or the following!


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 354 comments I read this a couple of months ago. It's a quick and easy read. I'll wait for the discussion before I comment.


message 4: by Steve (last edited Jul 18, 2018 02:36PM) (new) - added it

Steve Middendorf (stevemid) | 75 comments When I was a child growing up in the US in the 50s I watched a cartoon series called Mr. Magoo. The main character was a wealthy, very short, retiree who gets into a series of comical situations as a result of his being extremely near-sighted, and his refusal to admit to his problem. However, the situation always seemed to work itself out for him, leaving him no worse off. The signature sign- off for each episode was, “Oh Magoo, you’ve done it again!” Now, I am Mr. Magoo’s age and much of what I’ve been reading lately comes to me like a Magoo episode.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had been away from the group and when I returned just a month ago the first book that I got hold of was 101 Arabian Nights but the Buckholz version of this title, set in Iraq during the war so I didn’t realise my mistake until I went to discussion. Next on my list was The Green Bicycle and I was well into it thinking, "Why are we reading teen novels?" before realising the Group intended a YA category book! (Oh Magoo, you’ve done it again!)

Perhaps I’m just trying to rationalise my bumbling, but I found The Green Bicycle to be quite a good book. The teen years are a great portal into the culture of a country. This is when the society’s rules get taught to children. It is during the teen years that hypocrisy meters are at their most sensitive. It is when free will and independent thinking bump up against the coercive power of society to enforce its rules. What better way to investigate the characteristics of a society than through the eyes of its teenagers?


message 5: by Melanie, Marhaba Language Expertise (new) - added it

Melanie (magidow) | 657 comments Mod
I'm glad you found some value to reading this book, Steve! I'm still near the beginning. Looking forward to everyone's ideas.

I didn't mention earlier that there's also a film, Wadjda (2012), written and directed by the author of this book. It follows the same story arc, but in a different form. I have seen the film, and can recommend it. However I can't compare / contrast it with the book just yet.


message 6: by Steve (new) - added it

Steve Middendorf (stevemid) | 75 comments Melanie wrote: "I'm glad you found some value to reading this book, Steve! I'm still near the beginning. Looking forward to everyone's ideas.

I didn't mention earlier that there's also a film, Wadjda (2012), writ..."

Hi Melanie, I checked and Wadjda is available on SBS, Australia's national broadcaster of multicultural and multilingual programming. I'll watch it soon.


message 7: by Laura (new)

Laura  (loranne) Hi, liked your comments about teenagers, and the coercive power of society. Wasn't so sure about YA, but will reconsider.


Bianca | 15 comments Last year I watched the movie Wadjda, so I'm looking forward to reading the book as it's the right order: watch the movie, then read the book. Though technically speaking I won't be reading, but listening. :-)


Jalilah | 813 comments Melanie wrote: "Dear All,

I've just started reading The Green Bicycle by Haifaa al Mansour, and I can report that so far it's very light and fun if you enjoy YA literature and you have any interes..."



I just started and agree with everything you said it's light and fun, but at the same time a not so subtle critic on Saudi society. I wonder if Haifaa al Mansour had any problems when she made the film and later the book?


Bianca | 15 comments Lila wrote: "Melanie wrote: "Dear All,

I've just started reading The Green Bicycle by Haifaa al Mansour, and I can report that so far it's very light and fun if you enjoy YA literature and you ..."


I am now halfway through the audiobook and loving it. More so than in the movie, Wadjda's strong character find shape. Initially I had to get used to the slightly childish voice the narrator was putting on, but I got used to it!

Now I did a quick check about Haifa al Mansour's background and she doesn't seem to have any trouble after having made the film. In fact, it was the first Saudi film that got an Oscar nomination. Her husband's American, they live in the U.S. and she's made a couple of more films since (among others 'A storm in the stars', about the life of Mary Shelley).
I reckon her not being a resident in Saudi Arabia makes a difference, maybe changes taking places in the country itself play a role in the attitude towards Al Mansour. She was one out of three women invited by the crown prince, MBS, to join the kingdom's General Authority for Culture, a government body devoted to developing new arts-and-entertainment sectors.


Jalilah | 813 comments Bianca wrote: "Lila wrote: "Melanie wrote: "Dear All,

I've just started reading The Green Bicycle by Haifaa al Mansour, and I can report that so far it's very light and fun if you enjoy YA litera..."


I wonder if she was already living in the U.S. when she made Wadjda, or is she moved there after it was made?

I still have not seen the film, but of course now I want to more than ever.
It's a bittersweet story. I just finished it now. I loved Wadjda, felt sympathy for her mother and angry towards her father!
What a wimp! Further more it's a glaring example of how a religious state does not uphold the tenets of its religious. As mentioned earlier in Wadjda's school, and I'm sure the author put it there intentionally, men are allowed to have up to 4 wives, Only If they are able to provide equally for them. Wadjda's father can't even provide for 1 family let alone two!
In the end I was happy for Wadjda but was sad because I knew it was just a matter of time before she will have more problems. I'm sure once she's older she will not be allowed to ride her bike any more.


Bianca | 15 comments Not sure, but she married her American husband in 2007 so my assumption is that she already in the US by then. Interestingly enough, the film was shot in Saudi!

Ofcourse Wadjda's perspectives look grim. Wondering if there are auto-biographic aspects to the story? There's a chance she'll adapt as she goes through puberty - don't most girls? And I mean this in a very general way!! The headstrong suffer the most.

Absolutely agree with you on the hypocrisy of men when it comes to sticking to religious rules.


message 13: by Steve (new) - added it

Steve Middendorf (stevemid) | 75 comments Disclaimer: I always like the book better than the movie.

I had already finished the book when Melanie recommended to us the movie. I then found it and watched it. To my mind the movie followed the book's themes quite closely: a plucky, irreverent, rebellious teenager coming of age in a strict society. However, since so much of the book happens via the thoughts inside Wadjda's head, it's hard for a screenwriter to portray that aspect of the character in video scenes or dialogue. However, the one thing I did love about the movie was that I got to hear Wadjda's beautiful recitation of the Quran verses. This I could not hear in the book - because I have no experience of it.

It's so easy to judge given the cultural hegemony of the West. But I find many many similarities between lived lives of women in East and West. Men are shits in both places, occupying places of power and prestige, treating women badly. Men use religion in both places to build up their power and keep women in their place. Families love each other in both places. Kids are educated in both places, they sneak around in both places, they rebel in both places and they are punished in both places - sometimes by the institutions, sometimes by the families. Women work hard in both places - sometimes for things they cannot have. In this our main character is challenged to acquire the green bicycle - a WAY OUT goal, really for a way out girl. We see how this trial changes Wajda. Through it she finds the Quran and becomes proficient. Isn't that ironic?


message 14: by Melanie, Marhaba Language Expertise (last edited Jul 31, 2018 05:26AM) (new) - added it

Melanie (magidow) | 657 comments Mod
Thank you, all of you, for such great comments! I've been away from internet for a bit, but I've been seeing the comments on my phone, and enjoying the discussion.

There's an interesting interview on YT with Haifaa Al Mansour (and might be more - feel free to add something else) here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-GLlv7t5j8

Steve, when you say it's ironic the way Wajda finds the Quran in pursuing her WAY OUT goal, I'd question that thought. I haven't finished reading the book yet, so I can't argue any position, but my first reaction is to think that the author might have made that intentional in order to underscore her point. It's along the lines of a comment Lila made: It's clearly not religion / spirituality (the Quran) that is the problem here. It's the institutions and individuals using it to perpetuate injustice (bikes for boys only). Just an initial thought. I need to get back to my reading - I've been busy moving into a new house!


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 354 comments Steve wrote: "Men use religion in both places to build up their power and keep women in their place..."

I think you are right on target here. And I agree with Melanie that it is not religion / spirituality that is the problem here. It is an abuse of religion.

For example in Christianity, the patriarchy used the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis to justify oppressing women. Eve is blamed for the Fall/seducing Adam. Therefore, the logic goes that women must be controlled or they will lead you to temptation. Furthermore, Eve's punishment in Genesis is two fold: through her sexuality and through her submission to the male:

To the woman he said, "I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

During the Middle Ages in Europe, thousands of women were accused of being witches and executed because they gave women herbs to alleviate the pain of childbirth, i.e. "doing the devil's work" since they interfered with God's punishment for women.

In the Qur'an, it is Adam who is tempted by the serpent--not Eve. And the punishment is identical for both male and female. And yet, many Muslim men and women justify the subordination of women based on the story in Genesis.

Again, as Melanie said, religion is not the problem. It is how religion is abused to justify discrimination and injustice.


message 16: by Steve (last edited Aug 01, 2018 12:43AM) (new) - added it

Steve Middendorf (stevemid) | 75 comments Tamara, you are so right. Given that the bible was first an oral history and then written down in Hebrew, then translated to Greek, then to Latin and finally to English-- by men, it's no wonder that views of men have pervaded biblical study. Now that original Hebrew and Greek transcripts are available to women scholars, the male bias dating back to early translations is exposed.

I credit the following information to a Benedictine nun (my 8th grade teacher) with whom I still correspond. (I've never asked her her age but I'm 71 so you can do the math.) These nuns have worked as slaves in the Church, whilst priests have run amok. They have never stopped fighting for women's rights in this patriarchal institution and are some of the strongest feminists I've ever met.

A pioneer in this study has been Phyllis Trible author of the book, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. Trible is past president of the Society of Biblical Literature. Her contention is that the original story does not say that Eve tempted Adam. What's more there is no explicit reference to "sin" in the original Hebrew narratives. Actually, none of the Hebrew words for sin and transgression are present in the story. Pamela Norris, in Eve: A Biography, demonstrated that the interpretations we have come to accept about Eve are not embedded in the original story. She points out that Eve's "disreputable character" is crucially absent from the Jewish bible. In fact, Norris's research discovered that the earliest references to Eve's "reputation problem" first appear about 300 years after the birth of Christ in a contemporary Greek text called Apocalypse of Moses - this is where the sexually tainted Eve first steps into the limelight. Early theologians and Christian writers with very familiar names - Tertullian, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas then continued to equate women with the "sin" of Eve. These writers were instrumental in shaping the language and the thought of western Christianity.

I think this goes well beyond religion and spirituality.


message 17: by Kayla (new) - added it

Kayla Stierwalt (kaylasonlyheart) | 7 comments I'm still toward the beginning of the book, but so far I enjoy the story and your guys' deep thoughts on it. I look forward to reading and learning more.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 354 comments Steve wrote: "Tamara, you are so right. Given that the bible was first an oral history and then written down in Hebrew, then translated to Greek, then to Latin and finally to English-- by men, it's no wonder tha..."

Great post! Thank you, Steve.

I've read Phyllis Trible's God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. Loved it. And I'm aware of the influence of Tertullian, Augustine, and Aquinas on perpetrating and reinforcing a negative perception of women.

If you are interested in the topic, I recommend Eve and Adam: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Readings on Genesis and Gender by Kristen E. Kvam and Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity by Elaine Pagels. I love Pagels' work in The Gnostic Gospels in which, among other things, she demonstrates how early Christianity was characterized by egalitarianism and gender equity.

When I was a professor of English many moons ago, I became very interested in the topic. I developed a course on women in religion and wrote a multicultural text for it: Women and Goddesses in Myth and Sacred Text.

The Benedictine nun you mention in your post sounds amazing. I think it is a testament to the strength of her faith that she recognizes the distortions perpetrated on Christianity by the patriarchy.


message 19: by Steve (new) - added it

Steve Middendorf (stevemid) | 75 comments Melanie, thank you for the You tube interview with Haifaa Al Mansour. Wadja's innocence, her determination and her beautiful spirit shone through! I didn't think the interviewer listened very well, he was somewhat silly, and tried to draw out a clash with Saudi culture but Haifaa was so patient. A beautiful person.


message 20: by Melanie, Marhaba Language Expertise (new) - added it

Melanie (magidow) | 657 comments Mod
I just finished reading the book, and made a short blog post about it. It seems that the film was made first, and then the book. I think that both are effective and successful. Thanks for all your comments - it was a fun read!


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