A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

An Introduction to God Dies on the Nile by Nawal El Saadawi

Many of the ‘standard’ feminist classics that we can name off the top of our head when asked to are written by women from Europe or North America. As part of this project it was pointed out that we should expand our horizons and consider those classics coming from other parts of the world as well. (And can I just remark again how grateful I am that this suggestion was made to us!) As I’d heard quite a little bit about Saadawi and her works I thought she would be a great choice and so she was added to our list.

Saadawi is a fantastic woman to read about. I admit that I am going in to this project a little blind and know almost nothing about her except what I’ve managed to find online. She was born in 1931 outside Cairo and was actually sent to school – which was unusual for a girl at the time. Raised by her father to be strong and independent but forced at a young age to take care of her younger siblings when her parents died, she still managed to graduate medical school in Cairo in 1955. She spoke her mind and wrote about the issues that she saw affecting women even though it caused her to lose good jobs and be persecuted by the government. (Read more on Wikipedia.)

She has a long list of works to her name ranging from autobiographies of her time in the Egyptian women’s prison to non-fiction on the status of women in the Arab world to fictional novels. According to Wikipedia it is her 1972 Women and Sex that was seminal to second-wave feminism but alas, it seems to be harder to find. Instead we chose for this month her novel God Dies by the Nile which was written in 1974 as Death of the Only Man in the World  and published under the new title when translated from Arabic in 1985. The original title was meant to be God Dies by the Nile but no Arabic publishers would print the title either in Lebanon where it was first printed or later in Egypt because they said, according to the foreword, that “God cannot die” and that they didn’t want their shops burned down by fundamentalists.

The novel that we will be reading together (and I do hope that you all join in with us! I know this is a harder book to find but I think it will be very worth finding if you can), God Dies by the Nile is set in a small village on the Nile river. The cover of my edition (published by Zed Books and purchased online at Book Depository) reads:

Nawal El Saadawi’s classic attempt to square religion with a society in which women are respected as equals is as relevant today as ever.

Some of the other books that we’ve read have been very focused on Christianity (Mary Wollstonecraft for example), so I think it will be an interesting change to read a novel now that tries to square feminist ideals with Islam. The novel deals not only with religion but also with corruption and, obviously, the mistreatment of women.  I think that we will have a lot to discuss in its pages.

Saadawi also says of the book that it was inspired by stories she heard as a young girl of peasants committing suicide or running away because they become pregnant as servants to mayors and other big men, and how there is no retribution or justice for them. She says also “I finished the novel in two months. Writing it gave me enormous pleasure, a pleasure which sustained me inside prison, and which is more essential to me than breathing.”

Because I know so little about Saadawi and her works and we kind of picked this title at random, I’ve also picked up two other works by her – The Novel and Women at Point Zero to read as well through the month. Is anyone else interested in reading some of her other works and talking about them here? I would love to host anyone who would like to discuss any of her other works or her political activism! Please send me an email at feministclassics[at]gmail[dot]com or at amy[dot]mckie[at]gmail[dot]com.

18 responses to “An Introduction to God Dies on the Nile by Nawal El Saadawi

  1. Christina June 1, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    I’m glad we’re getting a non-European/American point of view, and I truly admire and respect Ms. El Sadaawi. But I had some problems with God Dies By the Nile. Here’s my review:

    I don’t think I’d be interested in reading another of her novels unless I knew they were very different from this one. I’d love to get my hands on a copy of Women and Sex, though. Too bad it’s so difficult to find.

  2. Beachreader June 1, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    I’ve been trying to locate this book, but my local big city library does not carry this book by Nawal El Saadawi – though they do have others. The cheapest I can find it is 20.00 on Amazon for a paperback – which I am not willing to spend, so I will be skipping this month’s selection. Happy Reading to all and I will be back in July for The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir 🙂

    • amymckie June 1, 2011 at 10:06 pm

      Oh darn that library Beachreader! I am going to keep my fingers crossed that something works out. Like your library does something crazy and orders in some copies 😉

    • Christina June 2, 2011 at 12:33 am

      There’s a pretty good chance your library could order it through Interlibrary Loan, but it’d probably take a while for you to get it. Still, it’s an option. I think I got the last cheap copy from Amazon.
      ACTUALLY, now that I think of it, I’d be perfectly happy to mail you my copy (I wasn’t a big fan) if you want to email me your mailing address- StinaVW [at] gmail

  3. Emily Jane June 2, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Yikes, I’m late on getting a copy of this one so I’ll have to cross my fingers on the way to the library…hope to find it in time, really looking forward to this one!

  4. SilverSeason June 3, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Wow! I have to break in here to give you this link http://www.salon.com/books/jane_austen/index.html?story=/books/2011/06/02/naipaul_slams_jane_austen_women_writers to V.S. Naipaul’s remarks about women writers, as reported today on Salon.

    I have read quite a bit of Naipaul. He is a good writer but a mean and vindictive human being. He says women can’t write. We suffer from the disability of being “different.” Well, you’re not so good looking either, V.S.

    • amymckie June 3, 2011 at 1:08 pm

      Bleh SilverSeason, that is about the only thing I can say about Naipaul and that article!! I’ve only read one work by him but I found him to be very racist and had quite the colonial mentality toward his country of origin (the Caribbean islands were all terrible and the people there terrible and he’s lucky to have escaped and etc). It was really odd. So I’m not at all surprised to see that he has such old, bad, and archaic views on women as well. Sadly.

  5. Lauren @ UnderneathaBook June 8, 2011 at 1:26 am

    I posted my review here: http://underneathabook.blogspot.com/2011/06/book-review-god-dies-by-nile-by-nawal.html

    I liked it quite a bit; it strongly reminded me of Beloved by Toni Morrison, which is one of my all-time favorite books.

    …Also, if anyone would like for me to mail them the copy I acquired through amazon.com, please e-mail me. 🙂 I’m happy to pass it along!

    • amymckie June 14, 2011 at 1:24 am

      Ok, I really must read Beloved one of these days soon, I keep hearing such good things about it Lauren! Thanks for the link and for the generous offer. I’ll mention it in a post in hopes that someone will take you up on it!!

  6. Pingback: More on Nawal El Saadawi « A Year of Feminist Classics

  7. Pingback: On God Dies by the Nile and Female Anger | The Feminist Texican [Reads]

  8. Pingback: Wrap-Up: God Dies by the Nile « A Year of Feminist Classics

  9. Pingback: Review: God Dies by the Nile by Nawal El Saadawi « Amy Reads

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