A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

Wrap-Up: God Dies by the Nile

Title: God Dies by the Nile
Author: Saadawi, Nawal El
Length: Varies per edition, approximately 175 pages
Genre: Fiction
Original Published In: 1974

I have to start by saying what a fantastic time I’ve had this month. Due to my life finally being in order I’ve been able to participate much more than I had been able to previously. Sadly participation was lower this month but hopefully my availability continues strong and participation increases as we read books that are more available!

I started the month with an introduction to Saadawi and to this book, continued with some possible discussion questions to think of when reviewing the book, and then mid-month continued with more information and news about Saadawi. In addition to reading this title I tried to learn more about Saadawi by searching out her political protest involvement (discussed in the posts linked above) and I also tried to read more of her works. Sadly due to the Canada Post strike and lock-out two of the titles I purchased have yet to arrive on my doorstep, but I was able to read both Woman at Point Zero and The Novel. I do think that these titles helped me get a better understanding of Saadawi’s work.

Now, my thoughts on this book. I really did like it (my review is also posted at Amy Reads). Although now that SilverSeason has pointed out some of the language (translation?) issues I can’t get them out of my head (everything being pale), I still really enjoyed the language of the book. I found it very sparse and simplistic, and the use of repetition, to me, really reinforced how little possibility there was of anything changing. Through the course of the novel we see the perspective of a variety of characters through the story which, I felt, gave the reader a true overview of the situation and the true extent of the corruption.

Another thing that I enjoyed about the book was the way in which the corruption and mistreatment affected every member of the village in some way. The powerful were on edge trying to keep their power, the women suffered at the hands of men, and the men also struggle as the powerful work at different ways to access the women and so get rid of the men. The treatment of men through the story, to me, showed clearly how improving the lot of women also helps men. If the mayor can’t simply kill the man to get the woman, then the man wouldn’t suffer as much either. I loved how Saadawi showed the effects throughout not only on women but on men – I can’t help but think (sadly) that seeing that their lot will also improve will get men to pay more attention.

Lastly, throughout the novel we see again and again how religion is used by corrupt officials to trick and subjugate peasants. I thought that through this Saadawi was showing that religion itself isn’t the cause of suffering but rather a tool being used. Her choice of title, I felt, owed more to the corruption. Allah can’t really be killed, unless someone else has taken over the role of Allah as we saw in the book.

What did everyone else think? Please share your thoughts!

A few participants have already linked their reviews so I will share a brief taste of their experiences reading the book. Do click through to read their full reviews and comment!

Christina of The Blue Bookcase showed reasons why she wanted to really like the book and explains why it just didn’t work, starting by asking:

There are important issues here, ones that often occupy the minds of bleeding-heart liberals like me. God Dies has class struggle, domestic abuse, arranged marriage, female circumcision, corruption in government and religion, and even PTSD. These huge, horrible things are as relevant now as they were when the book was written in the 1970’s. So why didn’t I get all excited and activsity when I read this?

Lauren of Underneath a Book did enjoy the book more. She compares it to another book (that I need to read!), Beloved, saying:

Both women, Zakeya and Sethe, live incredibly hard lives, surviving through their wits and hard, physical labor, and are constantly tormented by the inequalities that surround them. Both Morrison and Saadawi do an incredible job of rendering even the most violent, desperate acts understandable and those who commit them human.

SilverSeason, blogging at Silver Threads, had issues with the language and translation and also points out that:

I find this novel more of a protest against the injustice of Egyptian society than a feminist tract. There is not much to choose between the abuse of men and women in the story; each is abused in accordance with his or her gender. Men are murdered and falsely accused of murder. Women are deceived and seduced and cast out. Being male does not save the “son of fornication and sin” from death at the hands of the mob.

BeachReader talked about the same thing, saying:

It is so full of despair, anger, and violence that it keeps the reader on edge because you know as you read it there is no happy ending.  Not only is it about the subjugation of women on the most bases of levels, it is also about the confinements of a social class system that’s walls are impenetrable.

Melissa of The Feminist Texican [Reads] had a post that completely blew me away (seriously Melissa, your posts are always brilliant!). She talks about how she saw a review on GoodReads that talked about the anger in the book and this got her thinking about – and discussing – the stereotype of Angry Feminist. I’ll just include a short excerpt but I highly recommend reading the whole:

As Nawal El Saadawi is a Muslim woman of color writing about disenfranchised women in an African country, the Angry Feminist label assumes a messier set of baggage when applied to this book. The Angry Woman of Color label has racist roots in both feminism and society at large. Think of the anger-related stereotypes of women of color and how they’ve been used in delegitimizing ways, even though the anger that inspired these terms is often perfectly justifiable: Bitchy Asian, Angry Black Woman, Hot-Tempered Latina, etc. Now think of the mainstream anger-related stereotype for Muslim women…I don’t think there is one. By and large, the most prevalent stereotype of Muslim women involves silence and face-covering veils.


Finally, please do add your review to the InLinkz collection below to create an easy database for participants to use to find your review and keep the discussion going!

6 responses to “Wrap-Up: God Dies by the Nile

  1. SilverSeason June 30, 2011 at 10:02 am

    You have summed it up very well. All of us who were able to find and read this book gained something from it.

    • amymckie June 30, 2011 at 8:55 pm

      Thank you so much SilverSeason. It’s too bad that not a ton of people were able to locate it, but I’m so happy that those who read it got so much from it. I really had a great time this month!

  2. dragonflyy419 July 2, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Thanks to Lauren of Underneath a Book I was able to read this book … but I’m late in the game at writing a review … I should have one up in the next couple of days. I really enjoyed reading the wrap up comments as they did solidify much of what I saw in the book.

  3. onereadleaf July 18, 2011 at 1:45 am

    I’ve posted about the book. I didn’t end up addressing any of the discussion questions, but I found I had a lot to say about hiding on top of the oven…

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