This is a fable of modern Egypt which in some ways is a country still ruled by the past. The book tells us of the hypocrisy that runs through Egyptian society with themes of bygone days clashing with the modern world.

Nawal El Saadawi presents a story of women with hopes and ambitions in the shadows of a resurgent religion. It shows us the goings on of the elite and upper middle classes from the viewpoint of various women from different strata of society. It is a tale of patriarchy and control by men woven in to the back drop of the Arab Spring as well as previous upheavals in the recent past of Egyptian society.

The story concentrates on the life of a woman who was the partner of political activist when she was young. When her partner dies in custody she finds out she is pregnant and she is forced to abandon her child to the streets. She eventually is able to marry though and live a more settled life as a literary critic. Her child also becomes a writer and her husband is a literary critic like her but a more important one mainly because he is a man. Among all this she is also trying to write a novel in secret about the life of the daughter she abandoned when she was young who has become a famous singer. This is a complicated and confusing story, but it is a rewarding read.

A well-written and thoughtful insight into the lives of women in modern Egypt. A scathing attack and on patriarchy on religions and how they can be used to subjugate women.

Sara Boorman 3/3

Zeina by Nawal El Saadawi
Saqi Books 9780863563553 pbk Apr 2019