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Woman at Point Zero
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Tour d'Afrique A-L Books 2008-12 > El-Saadawi: Woman at Point Zero | Egypt (Tour D'Afrique) first read: Sept 2010

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Muphyn | 816 comments Anybody else finished it yet?? (I'm only asking because I NEVER finish our book club reads and I HAVE this time!! :D hehe)


Andrea | 660 comments I haven't got it yet! You are speedy!


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I haven't started yet, but you've reminded me to move it to my bedside table.


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Mahriana Rofheart | 84 comments I finished it. I didn't intend to finish so quickly, but I got it from the library a while ago, and it was so short and intriguing, so I couldn't stop reading. :)

I'm trying to read No One Sleeps in Alexandria, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to get it done before I leave for an extended trip on Sept. 18


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LDB | 66 comments I have the book and it is next up after I finish Waberi's book. Looking forward to actually being able to finish and discuss a book during the actual book discussion period!


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
i finished a book last night and will read Woman at Point Zero today/tonight/tomorrow...it's short. and then i have the runners-up on my shelf...i'm really looking forward to this discussion!


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
margaine wrote: "I finished it. I didn't intend to finish so quickly, but I got it from the library a while ago, and it was so short and intriguing, so I couldn't stop reading. :)

I'm trying to read [book:No One S..."


are you enjoying no one sleeps in alexandria? it's long, i know. i think you'll be okay taking it up again after setting it down for awhile if you've been enjoying it.


Friederike Knabe (fknabe) | 162 comments Muphyn wrote: "Anybody else finished it yet?? (I'm only asking because I NEVER finish our book club reads and I HAVE this time!! :D hehe)"

I read it ages ago - I am waiting to get it back to refresh my memory.


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Mahriana Rofheart | 84 comments Marieke wrote: "are you enjoying no one sleeps in alexandria? it's long, i know. i think you'll be okay taking it up again after setting it down for awhile if you've been enjoying it."

I feel like I'm still getting into No One Sleeps in Alexandria. I was not expecting the war in Europe to be on the first page in the way it was, though, very interesting!


Ruthmarie | 92 comments As I mentioned, I'll be teaching this text again this quarter, so I'll be happy to hear readers' reactions/reports.


Wendy | 19 comments Hi everyone,
I'm a few chapters into the book. I look forward to the discussions as well. This is my first book group and I love that it is online - as I find it so hard to find time for a club that meets. So, this is a great way to catch peoples comments when I can!
Wendy


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Ruthmarie wrote: "As I mentioned, I'll be teaching this text again this quarter, so I'll be happy to hear readers' reactions/reports."

any interest in leading a discussion? :D

or, at the very least, feel free to try out discussion questions on us that you intend to use with your students...


Ruthmarie | 92 comments Sure, Marieke. My students will be reading WPZ the first week of November. Interested in starting discussion now? How many members are ready to discuss? I'm flexible.


Wendy | 19 comments I'll be ready in a few more days - perhaps by the end of the long weekend. But, I guess if you start now - I just won't read the entries until I'm done...:) Ruthmarie, that's great that you'll be teaching this book. What is the name of the class you teach and what school is it for?
Wendy


Ruthmarie | 92 comments I teach at Ohio State University. This class is "Introduction to African Literature," a broad survey. OK, how about if early next week, after the Labor Day holiday, I throw out some discussion topics? By the way, I do want to recommend a book of short stories by Nawal El Saadawi that is hard to come by but worth the search: She Has No Place in Paradise. Short stories include "She was the Weaker," "Nobody Told Her," "She Has No Place in Paradise," "Beautiful" etc. Most stories are 10 or fewer pages but really pack a punch.


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Mahriana Rofheart | 84 comments As an aspiring professor of African lit, I'm impressed Ruthmarie. :) Lucky you.


Ruthmarie | 92 comments My PhD is in medieval French lit. It was slightly more than 20 years ago, after I had taught French lang and lit courses and comparative lit courses for more than a decade, that, as they say, a door opened and I was pulled in--by a pioneer in the field of African lit--into the field to do some editing and translating, and well, here I am, never having regretted the redirection. I always say that I'm a good example of what can happen when you put your head through the open door and take a look: There are new worlds out there.

Good luck to you, Margaine.


Beverly | 543 comments I have not started reading this book but hope to start in the next week or so and so will catch up with the comments.
Several system implementations have me working very long hours (sigh)


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Beverly wrote: "I have not started reading this book but hope to start in the next week or so and so will catch up with the comments.
Several system implementations have me working very long hours (sigh)"


once you get the opportunity to read it, you'll finish it quickly. i couldn't put it down. i would have liked to have read it in one sitting, but my schedule made that impossible; however, i did manage it in three and read most of it yesterday after work.


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
margaine wrote: "As an aspiring professor of African lit, I'm impressed Ruthmarie. :) Lucky you."

are you teaching this fall, margaine? i've just realized that school is starting right now.

you can experiment on us too, if you'd like! :D


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Ruthmarie wrote: "I teach at Ohio State University. This class is "Introduction to African Literature," a broad survey. OK, how about if early next week, after the Labor Day holiday, I throw out some discussion topi..."

i think next week sounds good...only a couple of us have finished (i just finished it this morning) and some of us are out of town.

i really think that those who want to participate and haven't read it yet, once they pick it up they will be done in a day or so. i think this thread has the potential to really shape up into a great discussion.

should i refrain from posting my initial thoughts?


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Ruthmarie | 92 comments I'm leaving tomorrow to be overseas until the 13th, and will be online only when I have to! But sure, let's get started with comments from those who are ready and eager.

We can throw out discussion questions such as power: its uses and abuses, who has it and why and how; who wants it and why; prisons: physical, psychological, etc.; marriage/sex; crime/punishment; women's rights (Western perspective and how it plays in non-Western cultures); friendship (kinds); business/money/education . . . . feminism/womanism.

Of course, we can talk about Nawal El Saadawi's background, how it informs her writing etc. We can talk about her as author/narrator (same?). Those who have traveled to Egypt can say whether/how they relate to what NES presents in this writing (and others such as the short stories I mentioned in an earlier posting).

Just a few suggestions to get started.


Andrea | 660 comments Ruthmarie wrote: "I'm leaving tomorrow to be overseas until the 13th, and will be online only when I have to! But sure, let's get started with comments from those who are ready and eager.

We can throw out discussio..."
Ruthmarie, when you get back, I would love it if you could post the reading list for your course Intro to African Literature. I'm sure there are things on your list I haven't read.


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Mahriana Rofheart | 84 comments Marieke wrote: "are you teaching this fall, margaine? i've just realized that school is starting right now."

No, I'm not teaching literature this year. Actually, I'm headed to France in a few weeks to teach English at the high school level for the year.


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
margaine wrote: "Marieke wrote: "are you teaching this fall, margaine? i've just realized that school is starting right now."

No, I'm not teaching literature this year. Actually, I'm headed to France in a few week..."


wow!! that is awesome!! maybe you can use some contemporary african literature in your english lessons. :D


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Andrea wrote: Ruthmarie, when you get back, I would love it if you could post the reading list for your course Intro to African Literature. I'm sure there are things on your list I haven't read.

me too! me too! i would also like to see the list.


Muphyn | 816 comments Wow, I go away for a few days (without internet access) and you guys shape my one comment into a discussion thread! :) Very impressive.

I'm ready to start discussing but happy to wait for Ruthmarie to get back/others to catch up... Might just wait with the one question that I do have (that comes to my very tired mind).


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I had a hard time choosing among her books. I went with WPZ but may go back for more later. WPZ is now at the top of my heap, so I'll be back in the thread by next weekend.


Wendy | 19 comments I finished it two nights ago. So, whenever folks want to kick off discussion, I'm up for it. By the way, does this book group often have more than one book discussion going on at the same time? I got an invite for another book read about the author that wrote his book about a trip he took down the Nile. Just curious.


message 30: by Ruthmarie (last edited Sep 07, 2010 06:13AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ruthmarie | 92 comments Even though I am in Stockholm through the week, I do have internet, so yes, let's get started. I suggested a few questions earlier--see below--but sometimes the best first questions are about immediate reaction: what drew you into this story? or what pushed you away from it? Let's start off with general reactions and then go in for some fine-tuning.

We can throw out discussion questions such as power: its uses and abuses, who has it and why and how; who wants it and why; prisons: physical, psychological, etc.; marriage/sex; crime/punishment; women's rights (Western perspective and how it plays in non-Western cultures); friendship (kinds); business/money/education . . . . feminism/womanism.

Of course, we can talk about Nawal El Saadawi's background, how it informs her writing etc. We can talk about her as author/narrator (same?). Those who have traveled to Egypt can say whether/how they relate to what NES presents in this writing (and others such as the short stories I mentioned in an earlier posting).


Wendy | 19 comments OK - I'll respond with my comments. I was interested in the subject after reading the book jacket. However, I wasn't all that excited about the book. I found the dream like state that the lead character tells the story through a bit frustrating. Her story seems to be the story of many oppressed women in various countries. It is extremely sad that girls and women are treated so poorly and in this case, that family members show no love for their own.

I am not aware of Nawal El Saadawi's background except for what she states in the book.


Ruthmarie | 92 comments OK, let's get some reaction or insight into your frustration.

I think we ask for some talk about the meaning of "point zero," too. Where do we start in the narrative and where do we end up? Our hopes are raised (when-why-how?), but dashed etc. Is there any way out? What about agency? Does she have any control?

NES is an MD with work experience in public health (physical/mental) and has been/is an activist for women's rights.

What about others' reactions?


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Wendy wrote: "By the way, does this book group often have more than one book discussion going on at the same time? I got an invite for another book read about the author that wrote his book about a trip he took down the Nile. Just curious...."

Hi Wendy, sometimes we do...the "Tour" is standard and something you can count on. But sometimes we'll have other group discussions and we'll send out an invitation to the entire group so that everyone will know about it and can participate if they want.

Also, sometimes we also send out "invites" to interesting literary events around the world so don't be surprised if you get notified about something that is impossible for you to go to! :D


Wendy | 19 comments Thanks for the clarification.


Muphyn | 816 comments I wasn't much interested in reading "Point Zero", didn't really seem like a book or topic that normally gets my attention. HOWEVER, once I started I was totally engrossed by it and finished it in record time (says me, who often struggles to finish our book club reads!).

I loved the way it was narrated, it was focussed and gripping, and yes, there were bits and pieces that I could have done without but I suspect they all contributed to the sad and gloomy feel of the story.

One thing I didn't quite understand was when she first lived the cafe owner (Bayoumi), he seemed kind and caring and didn't touch her. And then suddenly he did turn on her and abused her horribly. Why the change? (or did I miss something?)


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I had that same question, muphyn, and it kind of detracted from the veracity of the story for me. I gave the book five stars for her gift with language...she does something really interesting in her writing with haunting, repeated images...in this case the white circles and dark circles. She is also masterful with mood...like you noted, gloomy.


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Mahriana Rofheart | 84 comments The thing that got me in this book was the repetition - sometimes literal (paragraphs repeated, but I apologize I don't have the book on me at the moment) and more often repetition of situations. It really is frustrating to read in a way - as Wendy says - to see this woman continually end up in these situations where men (and women) are trying to take advantage of her. Even though Firdaus comes across sounding strong in the end and has captivated all the prison's workers, I still cannot find very much hope in this book. And that is what upsets me about it. There is room in Egyptian society for women to become successful because there is the El Sadaawi-narrator-character as well as women working at the prison. But the book is just so focused on the impossibility of this one woman to escape from her endless patterns of repetition.

Despite this frustration on my part, I was really drawn into the story and the character. Muphyn, maybe someone who remembers more clearly can help us, but I am pretty sure that there was something specific that happened with Bayoumi that caused his attitude towards Firdaus to change. I can't remember what it was.


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Muphyn | 816 comments Margaine wrote: ... But the book is just so focused on the impossibility of this one woman to escape from her endless patterns of repetition.

Yes, I agree - I think that's what got to me; I kept thinking about it even after I'd finished it and the hopelessness of her situation is just tragic. She seemed to be such a victim of her circumstances without any hope to change them at all. Even her short stint at the company as a "respectable" woman didn't do much for her.

Is this book meant as a social critique of the situation/oppression of women? Are things still the same today? And do I recall correctly from the author's preface that the book was (is?) banned in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries?


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
muphyn wrote Is this book meant as a social critique of the situation/oppression of women? Are things still the same today?

to me, it seems to be a critique of power, status, and what society values more than it is (or maybe in addition to?) a critique of the oppression of women. hrmmm...maybe that's all the same thing when we are talking about a patriarchal society. but i see the narrator (sadawi) as a counterpoint to firdaus, each strong in her own way standing up to injustice in society's expectations. unfortunately the way the book is written, we don't know much about the narrator, but she is clearly firdaus's opposite--a successful doctor with connections, likely not abused, probably considered "respectable," and definitely not a prostitute. but she challenges the status quo by writing this book and holding a mirror up to egyptian society--i really think she is examining a lot more than just the female role in that culture.

the lack of any empathetic/sympathetic male character bothered me more than firdaus's victim-pattern. i was pretty much disgusted by every man in the story. that might be my one big criticism of sadawi--i don't think she is very good at portraying male figures. i read The Innocence of the Devil but i couldn't get through The Fall of the Imam. The Innocence of the Devil has a female protagonist and The Fall of the Imam has a male protagonist.

half of what i just wrote just disappeared...maybe i'll remember it later...


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LDB | 66 comments I haven't quite finished the book but it won't take much longer. I have read enough, however, to join in. I had higher expectations for this book. In the end, it is written a little simplistically for me. The visual language, though, is probably more successful in Arabic (was it originally written in Arabic?) - such a poetic language. I didn't feel that it got into what happened and the emotions involved as much as I was looking for.

** POTENTIAL SPOILERS **

For Bayoumi's change, I feel as though that happened with many of the men in her life in some shape or form. It happened with Mahmoud, her husband, as well, if I am remembering correctly. It seems to be an indictment of the inconsistency and weakness of men. Rather an exageration -- I also would have liked to have seen a more balanced treatment of men, but I guess if you grow up in a context where that is your only impression of men, it is hard to be balanced.

When she was working in the office, I found interesting her reflection on her being worth less and respected less in this "respectable" profession than when she was a prostitute. I am sure I will see that line of thought continue to play out as I read further.

What did everyone think of the recurring theme of the eyes - the dark circles surrounding by white circles? On one hand I took it as society always looking at her. Later it becomes about her looking directly back at those who are monitoring or looking at her. I was a little annoyed, however, at the repetition of the exact same paragraphs related to the teacher and then Ibrahim. I get that this visualization and feeling is about 'falling in love' or something of the sort, but found myself annoyed by the repetition. Many years had passed between the two experiences and she hadn't matured enough for the experience to have been different? Anyway, I am curious to know how others read the use of this visualization/symbolism.


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
LDB said it is written a little simplistically for me. The visual language, though, is probably more successful in Arabic (was it originally written in Arabic?) - such a poetic language.

yes, it was originally written in Arabic. i'm pretty sure her husband translated it for her. for all the apparent anti-male-ness of her writing, she is happily married from what i understand. anyway, nerd that i am, i brought the original home from work to see if i could read it--precisely for those reasons: the simplicity of the writing and the repetition.

LDB also said I didn't feel that it got into what happened and the emotions involved as much as I was looking for. this bothered me a bit too, at times, but i pretty much read it in one sitting and somehow i think that helped me not be bothered by certain aspects. also, in a sense the simplistic style and lack of ... i don't know the term for it ... but the absence of any probing of her emotions made it powerful (to me). however, i do think the book would have been more powerful if the middle section had been like an interview rather than firdaus telling sadawi from beginning to end how she ended up condemned. but since this book is ostensibly a true story, perhaps that is how it really happened: sadawi sits on the floor, firdaus tells her story, sadawi leaves the prison shaken, and firdaus is executed. in some ways i think perhaps sadawi wrote the book for herself to work out how profoundly she had been affected by firdaus. she says she was affected deeply, and she relays firdaus's story, but unfortunately the reader doesn't seem to really share that impact, judging from this discussion thread...is it because many of us are american and grew up in a different time and place? the significance is lost on us? we can't just simply feel what sadawi felt upon hearing firdaus's story?

there are a few egyptians here in the group; hopefully soon one or two will chime in with their thoughts. :D


Ruthmarie | 92 comments I will be back in the US tomorrow and 1) share current and past reading lists for my survey course and 2) throw out some more questions and try to bring together thoughts and further questions to readers of WPZ. I think the comment about repetition is a really a fertile topic. "The medium is the message" . . . ?


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I thought the narrative style and content, including the dream-like state, repetitions, and recurrent discovery that she has been demeaned/betrayed by people she trusted, all conveyed post-traumatic stress disorder very well.


Muphyn | 816 comments Shoshanapnw wrote: "I thought the narrative style and content, including the dream-like state, repetitions, and recurrent discovery that she has been demeaned/betrayed by people she trusted, all conveyed post-traumati..."

I agree, I didn't mind the repetion much as it seemed to convey the trauma and repeated experiences very well. I guess I'm still struck by the fact that she experienced the same thing over and over again - so destructive and gloomy...


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Shoshanapnw wrote: "I thought the narrative style and content, including the dream-like state, repetitions, and recurrent discovery that she has been demeaned/betrayed by people she trusted, all conveyed post-traumati..."

interesting...that aspect of psychological analysis hadn't occurred to me. it's very difficult for abused people to break cycles so the repetition is not that surprising to me; frustrating, yes, however.

i think a person in any society can experience something like this; perhaps it's helpful to look at it in a very individualized manner rather than to tease out any reflection on the treatment of women in a particular society.


Ruthmarie | 92 comments I am adding the list of books I'll be teaching this quarter:
D. T. Niane, SUNDIATA: AN EPIC OF OLD MALI (rev. version); Chinua Achebe, THINGS FALL APART; Camara Laye, THE DARK CHILD; Nawal El Saadawi, WOMAN AT POINT ZERO; Uwem Akpan, SAY YOU'RE ONE OF THEM (short stories); Bogumil Andrzejewski, ed., ANTHOLOGY OF SOMALI POETRY

I'll also show the films/videos THE DANGER OF A SINGLE STORY with Chimamanda Adichie; KEITA: THE HERITAGE OF THE GRIOT in conjunction with SUNDIATA; BINTA AND THE GREAT IDEA; SARAFINA!and some videos of praise poets.

In past years I have selected from lots of other titles, such as Cheikh Hamidou Kane's AMBIGUOUS ADVENTURE, Amadou Hampate Ba's THE FORTUNES OF WANGRIN; Wole Soyinka's DEATH AND THE KING'S HORSEMAN or THE LION AND THE JEWEL; Mariama Ba's SO LONG A LETTER; Tsitsi Dangarembga's NERVOUS CONDITIONS; Ngugi wa Thiong'o's MATIGARI;Assia Djebar's FANTASIA: AN ALGERIAN CAVALCADE; short stories by Nawal El Saadawi, Bessie Head, and others, but especially "We Killed Mangy-Dog" by Honwana. I also like to show films by Mambety, Mansour Sora Wade, and Sembene. And I always spend a bit of time on African music, introducing students to Afropop Worldwide.


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I'll post links to those books, thanks so much for sharing! is there any way for us to audit long-distance? :D

Ambiguous Adventure

The Fortunes of Wangrin

Death and the King's Horseman

The Lion and the Jewel

So Long a Letter

Nervous Conditions

Matigari

Fantasia


Ruthmarie | 92 comments Marieke wrote: "Shoshanapnw wrote: "I thought the narrative style and content, including the dream-like state, repetitions, and recurrent discovery that she has been demeaned/betrayed by people she trusted, all co..."

Nawal El Saadawi is a psychologist and I find that there is a certain distance or a kind of clinical feeling to the narration of WPZ. The lack of sentimentality in her storytelling keeps the focus on the lack of true communication, lack of sense of community in the characters' lives.


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Mahriana Rofheart | 84 comments Ruthmarie, thanks for your reading lists. _Keita_ is such a great film to show to students alongside _Sundiata_. I have done the same in a World Mythology course.


Ruthmarie | 92 comments It never, ever gets old, does it! Same for Binta.

I also very much like to show and discuss Picc Mi by Mansour Sora Wade. Even though it's an old film, the topic--the plight of children, in this case little talibés--remains urgent.

And in terms of the Sundiata/Keita pairing, because I have also taught comp studies/world myth classes, I find it easy to make connections with Homer, Virgil, etc. I wish there were more focus on such comparative studies at the lower and undergraduate levels.


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