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"More convincingly than any other woman writing in Arabic today, Alifa Rifaat lifts the vil on what it means to be a women living within a traditional Muslim society." So states the translator's foreword to this collection of the Egyptian author's best short stories. Rifaat (1930-1996) did not go to university, spoke only Arabic, and seldom traveled abroad. This virtual im "More convincingly than any other woman writing in Arabic today, Alifa Rifaat lifts the vil on what it means to be a women living within a traditional Muslim society." So states the translator's foreword to this collection of the Egyptian author's best short stories. Rifaat (1930-1996) did not go to university, spoke only Arabic, and seldom traveled abroad. This virtual immunity from Western influence lends a special authenticity to her direct yet sincere accounts of death, sexual fulfillment, the lives of women in purdah, and the frustrations of everyday life in a male-dominated Islamic environment. Translated from the Arabic by Denys Johnson-Davies, the collection admits the reader into a hidden private world, regulated by the call of the mosque, but often full of profound anguish and personal isolation. Badriyya's despariting anger at her deceitful husband, for example, or the hauntingly melancholy of "At the Time of the Jasmine," are treated with a sensitivity to the discipline and order of Islam.


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"More convincingly than any other woman writing in Arabic today, Alifa Rifaat lifts the vil on what it means to be a women living within a traditional Muslim society." So states the translator's foreword to this collection of the Egyptian author's best short stories. Rifaat (1930-1996) did not go to university, spoke only Arabic, and seldom traveled abroad. This virtual im "More convincingly than any other woman writing in Arabic today, Alifa Rifaat lifts the vil on what it means to be a women living within a traditional Muslim society." So states the translator's foreword to this collection of the Egyptian author's best short stories. Rifaat (1930-1996) did not go to university, spoke only Arabic, and seldom traveled abroad. This virtual immunity from Western influence lends a special authenticity to her direct yet sincere accounts of death, sexual fulfillment, the lives of women in purdah, and the frustrations of everyday life in a male-dominated Islamic environment. Translated from the Arabic by Denys Johnson-Davies, the collection admits the reader into a hidden private world, regulated by the call of the mosque, but often full of profound anguish and personal isolation. Badriyya's despariting anger at her deceitful husband, for example, or the hauntingly melancholy of "At the Time of the Jasmine," are treated with a sensitivity to the discipline and order of Islam.

30 review for Distant View of a Minaret and Other Stories

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jibran

    At first sight the brevity of the stories indicates lack of depth, but it did not take long to correct the initial impression as I read through the first few of the total fifteen stories in the collection. These mostly first-person narratives are independent portraits that give the impression of a miniature painting in writing and pack so much in so few pages. It is impossible to doubt the authenticity of each of her female protagonists as they relate their stories with an economy of emotions not At first sight the brevity of the stories indicates lack of depth, but it did not take long to correct the initial impression as I read through the first few of the total fifteen stories in the collection. These mostly first-person narratives are independent portraits that give the impression of a miniature painting in writing and pack so much in so few pages. It is impossible to doubt the authenticity of each of her female protagonists as they relate their stories with an economy of emotions not usually seen in other contemporary works in the same tradition. These women are up against injustice - injustice as they perceive it - that limits their happiness, their desires and dreams, and confines them to a simple life-formula that can best be described as birth, marriage and death. But even though they struggle against the injustice of tradition without opting for the self-conscious all-out rebellion, a template that modern readers expect women feminist writers to follow, Alifa Rifaat has still touched on many sensitive taboos that threaten the patriarchal worldview more than if it had been written in the said vein of the much-loved but ineffectual total rebellion. It is far more ‘problematic’ when women openly dismiss their hard existence as a great injustice by Allah than deny the existence of the same Allah, which would kill the debate and just be laughed at. Likewise, writing about a wife’s frustrated sexuality because her husband is a heart patient and can’t satisfy her needs with the passion a young women demands and who, after mechanical coitus, hides herself in the bathroom to rub herself to orgasm with a view of a phallic minaret from the window is a much more 'scandalous' affair than writing about respectable wives fucking their husband’s best friend. Sexuality and subversive action are two themes that run most strongly through all the stories. In An Incident in the Ghobashi Household a woman hides the pregnancy of her unwed daughter by sending her away and enacting an elaborate drama as if she were herself pregnant, to claim the baby as her own when the time comes. In Me and My Sister a dutiful daughter left to support her family after her father takes a second wife fulfills her dreams of romance in what in hindsight is a dreadful manner. All stories are alike except one, My World of the Unknown, which is a highly erotic fantastical tale of a woman who falls in love with a djinn that changes form into a beautiful snake. It can be read as a fanciful metaphor for female homosexuality and its eventual fulfillment despite the attempts of the good husband and a well-meaning cleric to stem it, who, in a way, represent two pillars of patriarchal power. (view spoiler)[Speaking of which, I am a bit disconcerted that there's not a single decent male character in any of the stories. But I reckon it was expected. (hide spoiler)] Some readers have noted that these stories are not written from a feminist perspective! This raises questions about the very definition of feminism and its expression. The underlying assumption is that feminist writers in the developing world should imitate their Western counterparts if they want to be considered feminist. I don't need to say that it is a patronising and culturally insensitive position to take, something to which the translator, Denys Johnson-Davies, has himself succumbed in his incredibly smug little preface. According to him, Lebanese women writers are braver because their feminism is inspired by their Western counterparts whereas Alifa Rifaa's reading has been restricted to Arab writers and her struggle is merely against certain man-made interpretations of Islam! Many leading feminist movements in the developing world do not want agendas dictated to them by their Western peers, and want to prioritise their struggles on issues in consonance with local problems. As it often happens, foreign interference hinders rather than helps when women are expected to follow prescriptive feminism of the Western world. It then becomes difficult for local progressives to argue for change when they are seen as foreign puppets, and all sorts of questions about colonialism, racism and cultural imperialism come up to frustrate genuine female voices fighting, as Ms Rifaat would put, the injustices of tradition. In 1994 a conference on population and development was held in Cairo where... Third World women complained that the agenda had been hijacked by European and American women who were only interested in contraception and abortion; and that when they did tackle "Third World" issues, they sounded both patronising and racist. Even at Beijing in 1995, there were complaints that endless discussions by Westerners of reproductive rights and sexual orientation meant that the urgent concerns of women from less developed nations were ignored.* I understand why the subtly subversive power of these stories might be lost on readers accustomed to more explicit writing. As it is, Ms Rifaat is not interested in setting down clear answers to the issues she has raised. Her purpose is to draw realistic portraits and through those compel us to ask hard questions. * Feminist Theory: From Center to Margin by Bell Hooks cited in Feminism by Margaret Walters. August '16

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rowena

    “Daughter, I’m not crying now because I’m fed up or regret that the Lord created me a woman. No, it’s not that. It’s just that I’m sad about my life and my youth that have come and gone without my knowing how to live them really and truly as a woman.” - Alifa Rifatt, View From a Minaret This was a great short story collection by Alifa Rifatt, part of the amazing Heinemann African Writer’s Series (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_...). Set in Egypt with a strongly feminist theme, a lot of the s “Daughter, I’m not crying now because I’m fed up or regret that the Lord created me a woman. No, it’s not that. It’s just that I’m sad about my life and my youth that have come and gone without my knowing how to live them really and truly as a woman.” - Alifa Rifatt, View From a Minaret This was a great short story collection by Alifa Rifatt, part of the amazing Heinemann African Writer’s Series (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_...). Set in Egypt with a strongly feminist theme, a lot of the stories were very moving to me as a woman. Rifatt captured the feeling of being trapped as a woman in society, so strongly that it made me feel a bit claustrophobic. The stories explored themes like sexuality, loveless marriages, death, childhood As a woman I of course I couldn’t help but feel empathy with the women in these stories. Being trapped in loveless marriages, having to put up with being cheated on, having little fulfillment in life; some of the stories were extremely sad and depressing. The stories show women not in charge of their destiny, women controlled by society, women who are solitary and lonely and had nobody to confide with. The theme of Islam permeates the book and the faith is seen as a comfort to these women, as well as a major part of their everyday lives. I loved reading about the Muslim culture, the calls to prayer, the preparations to prayer, and the cultural aspects of funerals and so on; it was really fascinating: “Soon the call to dawn prayers will float like clouds of sands across the sleeping city. I shall hear it from three different mosques that surround our building.” The stories are on the whole extremely short and are unrelated, but in total you can get a strong picture of a male-dominated society, especially as it relates to women and young girls.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Zanna

    Like many wonderful short story writers, Rifaat works with a light touch, keeping herself modestly out of her work to let her characters emerge fully into view as believably autonomous. She tells brief tales from a wide range of perspectives: unmonied, wealthy, elderly, young, woman, man, struggling, comfortable. But perhaps most protagonists are middle aged women. Superficially the stories are simple, but they gave me a glance of deep, ineffable complexities of desire and motivation. Women hide Like many wonderful short story writers, Rifaat works with a light touch, keeping herself modestly out of her work to let her characters emerge fully into view as believably autonomous. She tells brief tales from a wide range of perspectives: unmonied, wealthy, elderly, young, woman, man, struggling, comfortable. But perhaps most protagonists are middle aged women. Superficially the stories are simple, but they gave me a glance of deep, ineffable complexities of desire and motivation. Women hide their passionate longings for sexual fulfilment and wider opportunities; whether they are thwarted by selfish, heartless husbands, social conventions or their own inhibitions. The protagonist in Bahiyya's Eyes weeps that she was born a girl, blaming the practice of female circumcision and her arranged marriage for her unhappy life. But a young woman who made a love marriage fares no better as her man is unfaithful and funds his smoking and drinking on her wages without offering love or help to her. In another story a man persuades himself not to feel for his father until a sympathetic community gives permission for the expression of grief at his death. Though this idea isn't made explicit, it suggests how masculine toughness and stolidity is culturally instilled and maintained. The painful consequences are made clear. My World of the Unknown is perhaps the most idiosyncratic piece. Highly erotic, it's told from the viewpoint of a woman in a harmonious marriage who moves to an old house in a small town, where she unexpectedly has a passionate affair with a female djinn, who tells her, as does the sheik who comes to exorcise the building, that their contact is sanctioned and watched over by Allah. When the human woman objects that 'but it is natural for you to be a man' the djinn replies 'perfect beauty is found only in woman'. Prayer and devotion are important to most of Rifaat's folks. In one of the most touching stories, The Kite, an uneducated, poor widow kisses her hand to give thanks to god, unable to perform her prayers in the prescribed way without guidance. I can't recommend this edition, translated by this fellow, Denys Johnson-Davies, because of his grotesquely patronising orientalist introduction, which says things like 'her reading has been restricted to Arab writers…' and that while she speaks for women's rights, 'Rifaat's revolt is merely against certain man-made interpretations [of Islam]', in contrast to 'the women writers of Beirut' whose 'Arab form of women's lib. is inspired by its Western counterpart'. What this entails is left for the reader to assume, given our superior Western understanding and access to the great(!) Western tradition of describing and interpreting Islam and Muslim societies(!!!!) He does drop a hint though: 'For her there is nothing romantic about adultery: it is, quite simply, a sin'. So 'Western women's lib.' is about promoting and romanticising adultery, perhaps. I'm not sure, at this point, if this admirer and champion(!!!) of Rifaat is actually making an antifeminist point. In any case, it totally belies the complexity and richness of Rifaat's handling of love and sex in her stories. I don't recognise Johnson-Davies description of her work at all. But perhaps in 1983 it was inconceivable to him, as to many Western women's libbers(!) that a practicing Muslim could actually be a feminist.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tamara Agha-Jaffar

    Alifa Rifaat’s collection of 15 short stories in Distant View of a Minaret and Other Stories is a quiet, subtle, and delicately nuanced collection of mostly first-person narratives that take place in Egypt. The stories are short, but what they lose in length they more than make up for in depth and penetrating insight. Rifaat has an uncanny ability to elevate ordinary acts of daily life into the level of ritual. With few exceptions, the first-person narratives are in the voices of women at differe Alifa Rifaat’s collection of 15 short stories in Distant View of a Minaret and Other Stories is a quiet, subtle, and delicately nuanced collection of mostly first-person narratives that take place in Egypt. The stories are short, but what they lose in length they more than make up for in depth and penetrating insight. Rifaat has an uncanny ability to elevate ordinary acts of daily life into the level of ritual. With few exceptions, the first-person narratives are in the voices of women at different stages in life. For example, in “Distant View of a Minaret” we meet a married woman whose husband makes her feel ashamed for seeking sexual fulfillment. “Bahiyaa’s Eyes” is in the voice of an aging woman with failing eyesight who wants to feast her eyes on her daughter one last time before completely losing her vision. In “An Incident at the Ghobashi Household,” a mother protects her daughter by pretending her daughter’s illegitimate child is her own. In “Just Another Day,” peace descends upon a woman as she is invited to enter the Gardens of Paradise while her body is being prepared for burial. The strength of these stories lies in the poignant and perceptive manner in which Rifaat handles life’s disappointments, situations, oppressions, and challenges. Several of the stories depict wives struggling to come to terms with their husbands’ prolific infidelities. Although many of the women recognize the injustice perpetrated against them, they do not rage against a patriarchal system that oppresses, discriminates, and marginalizes them. They do not seek divorce or retaliate against their husbands’ infidelities by committing adultery. Instead, they exercise an agency that manifests itself in a different form. They are practicing Muslims who derive sustenance from their Islamic faith. What is impressive about these stories is the feminist consciousness that emerges. It is not a Western style feminism. Instead, the women operate within the precepts of their Islamic faith. Their stories are punctuated by the muezzin’s call to prayer. As each woman makes her prostrations in prayer, a peace and calmness descends upon her, enabling her to better handle life’s challenges and accept her fate with poise and equanimity. Her thoughts are peppered with references to God and His mercy. In “The Kite”, for example, a poor, uneducated widow who followed her husband’s lead in prayer because she never learned to memorize verses from the Qur’an finds herself unable to perform prayers after his death. But she does what she can. She remembers to thank God for His generosity by performing a simple and tender gesture of raising her hand to her lips repeatedly to give thanks. Through her depiction of women as conscious agents who find refuge in their faith, Rifaat quietly exposes the double standard and systemic injustices characteristic of a patriarchal society. Eastern and/or Islamic feminists demand justice but seek it on their own terms. Their methods may be more effective than strident rebellion, which can be alienating. Many non-Western women resent the paternalistic attitude of some Western feminists who seek to impose their world-view and methodology for addressing injustice while simultaneously discrediting the world view of feminists from Eastern and/or Islamic countries. Alifa Rifaat exposes injustice with subtlety, sensitivity, and poignancy. She shows us how some women of the Islamic faith confront injustice. We don’t have to agree with their methods of coping with challenges, but we should at a minimum respect the right of all women to exercise agency by choosing their own paths for dealing with oppression. Highly recommended.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Maryam AL-Ghafri

    This work is especially relevant when applied to feminism in Arab countries, and particularly when it comes to feminist writers in Egypt, an Arab country which had seen a major feminist movement emerge in the latter part of the nineteenth century and acquire true recognition in the past fifty years or so. i read Another evening at the club and two other stories. the author tries to illustrate the world of feminism in Arab world.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    This is a collection of short stories, that are by and large short, set in Egypt (mostly Cairo), and told from the viewpoint of women. To say that Rifaat is a feminist, at least in the board Western use of the term wouldn’t quite be right. The stories are not advocating women moving out of the household, but more Quite frankly Rifaat reminds me of Jane Austen. Not in the sense of writing manners and marriage, but in the sense of writing about the quiet things, in the sense of being able to do This is a collection of short stories, that are by and large short, set in Egypt (mostly Cairo), and told from the viewpoint of women. To say that Rifaat is a feminist, at least in the board Western use of the term wouldn’t quite be right. The stories are not advocating women moving out of the household, but more Quite frankly Rifaat reminds me of Jane Austen. Not in the sense of writing manners and marriage, but in the sense of writing about the quiet things, in the sense of being able to do so much with a simple turn or phrase of a sentence. A large portion of the stories focus on marriage or coming to terms with what a marriage is, in particular, how a woman is forced to adapt to a marriage where her wants (sexual and emotional) are not the primary focus. There are also a few stories about how society forces women to act a certain way. Still, Egyptian Austen, at least in terms of the wonderful writing.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jerome Kuseh

    Alifa Rifaat takes you into the world of the 1980's Egyptian woman with excellence. This collection of short stories, told mostly through the point of view of old (and sometimes lonely)Egyptian women is a timeless example of the similarity in the experience of women across cultures. For a society such as hers, it is surprising how Alifa describes acts such as lesbianism and zoophilia in positive (at least, non-condemning) tones. This is my first experience with North African writing, and it has wh Alifa Rifaat takes you into the world of the 1980's Egyptian woman with excellence. This collection of short stories, told mostly through the point of view of old (and sometimes lonely)Egyptian women is a timeless example of the similarity in the experience of women across cultures. For a society such as hers, it is surprising how Alifa describes acts such as lesbianism and zoophilia in positive (at least, non-condemning) tones. This is my first experience with North African writing, and it has whetted my appetite for more. Full review http://kinnareads.com/2014/08/26/alif...

  8. 5 out of 5

    SheAintGotNoShoes

    Unusual very short stories. The author and I are at logger heads with regard to the treatment of women in North Africa and the Middle East. She wants no major changes to how their religion is followed and practiced, agrees that the man is 'the boss' of the house, she does what is expected of her including all rituals and beliefs of Islam, yet the only change she wanted to see was that men treat women more kindly as she claims it is required in the Koran. So she is not a feminist nor does she wan Unusual very short stories. The author and I are at logger heads with regard to the treatment of women in North Africa and the Middle East. She wants no major changes to how their religion is followed and practiced, agrees that the man is 'the boss' of the house, she does what is expected of her including all rituals and beliefs of Islam, yet the only change she wanted to see was that men treat women more kindly as she claims it is required in the Koran. So she is not a feminist nor does she want to upset any apple carts. Her brand of pro-woman/feminist ideology does not even begin to scratch the surface. Meh

  9. 4 out of 5

    Grady

    A number of reviews take care to point out that these short stories are not feminist, which is true enough; they are closely-observed pictures of (mostly) women's lives in Egypt. Some of the settings are urban, some rural; all the main characters are subject to the constraints placed on women in this society. The women are oppressed, but the focus is on how they come to terms with and find meaning in their lives, not on whether the structure of society is right or wrong. If you come to these sto A number of reviews take care to point out that these short stories are not feminist, which is true enough; they are closely-observed pictures of (mostly) women's lives in Egypt. Some of the settings are urban, some rural; all the main characters are subject to the constraints placed on women in this society. The women are oppressed, but the focus is on how they come to terms with and find meaning in their lives, not on whether the structure of society is right or wrong. If you come to these stories as a feminist (as I am), you'll leave with those values reinforced, because Rifaat does such a wonderful job conveying the realities of her characters' lives.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Zeek

    A peek in the window of womens' lives from a culture I must admit not understanding. Still their stories, are many womens'... This is a thin book of clear, honest(the book begins with a woman bored and embittered by her husband...in the middle of intercourse), concise, relateable- but mostly sad- short short stories written by an arab woman untainted by western influence, (according to the back cover). Important book imo. A peek in the window of womens' lives from a culture I must admit not understanding. Still their stories, are many womens'... This is a thin book of clear, honest(the book begins with a woman bored and embittered by her husband...in the middle of intercourse), concise, relateable- but mostly sad- short short stories written by an arab woman untainted by western influence, (according to the back cover). Important book imo.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tinea

    Aching. Egyptian women, whole lives or just moments, in two, five pages.

  12. 4 out of 5

    C.

    This reminded me more of Chekhov than anything else - a female, Egyptian, devoutly Muslim Chekhov. Really, truly excellent.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Anetq

    Stories of women, their lives and deaths - punctuated by the calls to prayer by the muezzin. Sharing the lives of a variety of muslim women, with a traditional mindset. Many of these the stories of older to elderly women - so not much of the (un)happy ever after that follows weddings, more of the "life after the children have grown up, and perhaps without a husband. Taking stock or just feeding chickens. Stories of women, their lives and deaths - punctuated by the calls to prayer by the muezzin. Sharing the lives of a variety of muslim women, with a traditional mindset. Many of these the stories of older to elderly women - so not much of the (un)happy ever after that follows weddings, more of the "life after the children have grown up, and perhaps without a husband. Taking stock or just feeding chickens.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kit

    I would never refuse to pick up any book in the African Writers Series from a secondhand bookshop. It is just a non-negotiable. Unless I've already read it, I would just clean it up. But I did not expect to pick up a book written by an Egyptian woman who talks explicitly talks about societal taboos considering her background as a Muslim. It is absolutely courageous writing. It is a sort of writing that would enforce and gain the respect of other women, but arguably it is more of value to be read I would never refuse to pick up any book in the African Writers Series from a secondhand bookshop. It is just a non-negotiable. Unless I've already read it, I would just clean it up. But I did not expect to pick up a book written by an Egyptian woman who talks explicitly talks about societal taboos considering her background as a Muslim. It is absolutely courageous writing. It is a sort of writing that would enforce and gain the respect of other women, but arguably it is more of value to be read by men, like me, who are obliviously to all these things. It reveals plenty about women's place in Muslim society, which is similar to other Asian societies, such as Cambodia. There is a clear imbalance of rights between men and women, especially in regards to societal expectations. Most of the stories are really unremarkable, as they describe the daily lives of its characters, but they betray this banality from a shock event, such as literally, a shock. Sometimes there is something trivial in death which seems unimportant and commonplace. It is like Rifaat described in view of a little girl witnessing her baby rabbits killed, that there are different degrees of death between humans and animals, but as one grew older, such things are also true between humans. It is the kicker which got me: "...that only a very few of us become capable of viewing our own death with equanimity". It is a cold and charged sentence, true to the bone, that most of us would not be able to accept our own deaths as a commonplace occurrence.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    Distant View of a Minaret presents short stories from a point of view you rarely get in fiction (or anywhere else for that matter) that of Egyptian women. Much is said rather patronizingly in the West of the way women are treated in the Arab world, but rarely do we listen to what they have to say about it themselves. Though this is a lot of pressure to put on an unassuming collection of stories, Rifaat's stories feature women who are impressive in their humanity, power, and sexuality. It approac Distant View of a Minaret presents short stories from a point of view you rarely get in fiction (or anywhere else for that matter) that of Egyptian women. Much is said rather patronizingly in the West of the way women are treated in the Arab world, but rarely do we listen to what they have to say about it themselves. Though this is a lot of pressure to put on an unassuming collection of stories, Rifaat's stories feature women who are impressive in their humanity, power, and sexuality. It approaches issues like genital mutilation, sexual dissatisfaction, lesbian eroticism, etc. with candor and without fear. Even without the weight of social issues upon its shoulders, Rifaat's stories are surprising, endearing, and stick with you after you have finished them. I'd compare her to Alice Munro, but this is probably only because they both write short stories featuring women going about their lives as people. It's a short read and much more than a cultural curiosity.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nicolette

    Heartbreakingly honest about the inner person, sexuality, death, family dynamics and daily living of traditional Muslim women. It's hard to comprehend that the author does not have any formal literary training and in fact lived a very cloistered life. Some might find her boundaries of sex and sexuality off-putting because of her obviously religious background but in my opinion, I find her discussion of these subjects very refreshing and still relatable to all women whether they're religious or no Heartbreakingly honest about the inner person, sexuality, death, family dynamics and daily living of traditional Muslim women. It's hard to comprehend that the author does not have any formal literary training and in fact lived a very cloistered life. Some might find her boundaries of sex and sexuality off-putting because of her obviously religious background but in my opinion, I find her discussion of these subjects very refreshing and still relatable to all women whether they're religious or not.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jen Appell

    I absolutely loved this collection of short stories. It was feminist in a geomodernist sense; the Egyptian women within the stories believe in feminism of their own sort, not Western modernism. The mix of stories show the diversity among the women and their beliefs. It's fantastic and definitely made me second guess my judgments of women in other cultures. I absolutely loved this collection of short stories. It was feminist in a geomodernist sense; the Egyptian women within the stories believe in feminism of their own sort, not Western modernism. The mix of stories show the diversity among the women and their beliefs. It's fantastic and definitely made me second guess my judgments of women in other cultures.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nyambura

    The collection of stories in this book is amazing. Found some gems I remember from a high school set book (Half a Day and Other Stories) and somewhere else. Highly recommended!

  19. 5 out of 5

    George P.

    Like Diane, I'm also rating five stars. What a terrific little book of short stories. A wonderful writer writing about what she knows, focusing mainly on Egyptian women and their lives. Like Diane, I'm also rating five stars. What a terrific little book of short stories. A wonderful writer writing about what she knows, focusing mainly on Egyptian women and their lives.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sookie

    Short, succinct stories that are entirely heartbreaking on their own and inspiring in the collective. One of the finest short story collection I've read in recent times. Short, succinct stories that are entirely heartbreaking on their own and inspiring in the collective. One of the finest short story collection I've read in recent times.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Big Ron

    This is a collection of very short stories (most lasting only a few pages) centering mainly on the lives of middle aged Egyptian women. The effect of the rapid pace is that a pastiche (auto)biography emerges of the woman trapped in her fate, often in her house, regardless of class. The prose is stark in a way that reflects the everyday pains of life and our reactions to them. First, there is the primacy of our own pain, and the mismatched lack of care that the world shows. Realizing there are mo This is a collection of very short stories (most lasting only a few pages) centering mainly on the lives of middle aged Egyptian women. The effect of the rapid pace is that a pastiche (auto)biography emerges of the woman trapped in her fate, often in her house, regardless of class. The prose is stark in a way that reflects the everyday pains of life and our reactions to them. First, there is the primacy of our own pain, and the mismatched lack of care that the world shows. Realizing there are more pains than there are listening ears, we learn to silently withstand. These simple and painful stories captured this aspect of life; the problems presented are intractable, and the resolution is often simply to defer hope to the afterlife, or find solace in the daily prayers. I was surprised at the boldness with which Rifaat discusses certain sexual matters. She may write about the action of sex euphemistically, but the related emotional and spiritual struggles are tackled head on. Again, nothing is overstated; it is simply seen clearly. I found this to be a very honest and impressive collection. The cumulative effect of reading about these characters was such that the ordinary passage below suddenly brought it all down on my head in the final story: When I was young I'd take my children to play in the park, where I'd see groups of old women sitting on the wooden benches under the trees. They would chatter away amongst themselves, sometimes all of them talking at once. Some of them knitted as they talked or watched the children playing. I used to tell myself that one day I would spend my time like them. But it seems there aren't any more parks in Cairo. The children and the elderly are not catered for in a city that is unable even to provide its citizens with homes because of the way they are increasing so rapidly. During the last few years, as I get older, I notice myself spending more time in bringing to mind past memories, especially during the short period between waking up and getting out of bed. Sometimes I remember incidents from way back that I'd completely forgotten. It seems that, although every single moment of one's life is stored away in the depths of one's mind, it is the happy moments that lie nearest the surface and are most easily recalled. No wonder old people like to live in the past. Today, I told myself, I'd stay on in bed. What was the point of getting up? (114-115)

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I usually consume my text quickly, devouring the content and then moving thoughtlessly on to a new story. I found myself unable to do this with Alifa Rifaat's collection of vignettes and short stories. Rifaat pulled me into a world that was both foreign and all too familiar. There existed a need to sit and consider where the edges of these seemingly antithetical worlds met and the soft and untenable borders of their separation. How was it that Rifaat had found parts of me and my internal dialogu I usually consume my text quickly, devouring the content and then moving thoughtlessly on to a new story. I found myself unable to do this with Alifa Rifaat's collection of vignettes and short stories. Rifaat pulled me into a world that was both foreign and all too familiar. There existed a need to sit and consider where the edges of these seemingly antithetical worlds met and the soft and untenable borders of their separation. How was it that Rifaat had found parts of me and my internal dialogue in veiled Egyptian women who walked a dusty path for water? Despite my question, it seemed that she did. While Rifaat was successful in providing a unique voice for many of the female characters in her story, they remained familiar in their loneliness, isolation and need to find ways to navigate a world dominated by paternalism. Each story was tinged with a hint of melancholy. This (at times subtle, at times overt) reached through the pages and found a place in me. I saw moments of my life, my mother's life, my sisters' lives in these female characters. I was struck most by the stories with aging female protagonists. Each story that revolved around a character's reflection of early innocence, burgeoning desires and hopes lost to a life of servitude, obedience and duty were captivating. In these stories youthful memories became a place that was both welcoming and haunting. Early memories represent a time in life when the reality and consequences of paternally constructed feminine ideals have yet to be fully understood and realized. Perhaps it is the fact that my own aging mother is haunted by her own youthful memories and I am terrified of what they have wielded in her that the stories of the older women were so jarring. My mother talks about her past with a longing and hope. It is funny how she still truly believes that her loyalty to her religion, her husband and her children can make her whole even though they have left her questioning, depressed and hungry for a different life. Despite it all, she encourages her daughters into these corners, even as she faces the truth of their limits. Her role as obedient wife and mother have not been without merit and gain. However, she has not been joyful in either. Our growing up was less than idyllic as my mother often raged at the reality that all her duty and obedience left her more and more invisible. While I read that Rifaat does not see herself as a feminist writer, I am challenged to see her stories as anything less. There is a stark reality in her fiction that reveals the profound in seemingly mundane events and moments. She has the capacity to demonstrate the hope, youth, longing and power that lives within the psyche of many women. Revelatory moments develop quietly, through the making of a cup of tea, staring out an apartment window, or caring for chicks on a sunny day. Vulnerability is not where one might expect it to lay hidden. Instead, there is an indomitable spirit that finds life in seemingly desperate and/or life draining tedium. A spirit that remains despite the reality of the women's duty to fulfill her husband's demands in an otherwise loveless marriage. The courage to ask to see a daughter one last time in a life that has taught a woman to ask for nothing. It is the spirit that finds hope in an isolated life built around the care giving of a man who expects a woman to know his needs before he does and meet them. A spirit that exists despite institutions that forgive male infidelity and see females who push back and reject this behavior as impudent and in need of corporal punishment. Regardless of where a woman lives or what advantages may be on her side, the struggle to find a clear voice and identity that is not relegated to conciliatory connection and placation seems endemic to the female experience. This is what Rifaat captures in her stories. It is this reality that drew me in from one story to the next. I think it is a book well worth a reader's time. I recommend taking in each story on its own. I also recommend reading it when one has time to sit and contemplate the characters and subtle truths that they reveal.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Morgan Devine

    A portrayal of the life of the Egyptian woman, not condemning the religion or system within which she is placed, but exploring the depth of what women desire and feel in a world where their expression is muted.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Heidi

    The stories are all quite short - even as short stories go - but they all pack a punch. Each one is an immaculate window into another person's life. Highly recommended. The stories are all quite short - even as short stories go - but they all pack a punch. Each one is an immaculate window into another person's life. Highly recommended.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne Bhagan

    “Daughter, I’m not crying now because I’m fed up or regret that the Lord created me a woman. No, it’s not that. It’s just that I’m sad about my life and my youth that have come and gone without my knowing how to live them really and truly as a woman.” This quote perfectly sums up the main theme which courses through Alifa Rifaat’s mesmerising short story collection. I only discovered this book, thanks to my local library. It nestled unobtrusively among bestsellers yet the title caught my eye. Writ “Daughter, I’m not crying now because I’m fed up or regret that the Lord created me a woman. No, it’s not that. It’s just that I’m sad about my life and my youth that have come and gone without my knowing how to live them really and truly as a woman.” This quote perfectly sums up the main theme which courses through Alifa Rifaat’s mesmerising short story collection. I only discovered this book, thanks to my local library. It nestled unobtrusively among bestsellers yet the title caught my eye. Written by an Egyptian author, this collection of short stories mainly presents the Arabic woman’s perspective. Rifaat is exceptional in that she never attended university, had an arranged marriage yet she writes like any other contemporary Western feminist writer. Her work is also translated from Arabic to English, demonstrating that you can write beautifully in your native language; that work does not have to be written solely in English to be deemed “literature.” Rifaat’s work certainly supports Adichie’s warning of the “danger of the single story.” (See http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_a...) Literature appreciation becomes so much richer when we share stories from multiple perspectives, from all corners of the globe and from individuals from all strata of society, rather than just being satisfied with stories from the prevailing Western ideology (vampires, S&M etc.). Some have indicated that her work “lifts the veil” that shrouds the female living in a patriarchal Islamic society like Egypt and I have to concur. Her style is very candid. She does not hold back and writes such lovely, simple prose that it’s hard to put the book down. Her stories are short yet enthralling. One story, “My world of the unknown,” was totally unexpected, maybe Freudian, even disturbing. It’s about a woman who has an affair with a female djinn who appears to her as a supernatural snake and enters her bedroom through a hole in the wall. Many of Rifaat's female characters belie an almost fatalistic attitude to their position in society like Bahiyya (see opening quote). Others put up with philandering husbands, unsatisfying arranged marriages, spinsterhood, even death in the name of “honour.” I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes literature that gives voice to the subaltern.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lady H

    Reviewing short story collections is always difficult, even when it's a collection by a single author, because content and quality can vary so much between stories. Reviewing this particular collection was even more...not difficult, exactly, but perhaps unusual, because this is a work in translation. As a reader I tend to shy away from translated works because they almost always don't cross over naturally; the words seem stiff and distant and I have no way of knowing whether this is the fault of Reviewing short story collections is always difficult, even when it's a collection by a single author, because content and quality can vary so much between stories. Reviewing this particular collection was even more...not difficult, exactly, but perhaps unusual, because this is a work in translation. As a reader I tend to shy away from translated works because they almost always don't cross over naturally; the words seem stiff and distant and I have no way of knowing whether this is the fault of the translator or a different style of writing. The case of this book was a little different, since it has been translated from its original Arabic, a language I am fluent in. The stories are all about Egyptians, and so I came into this book with familiarity and understanding. I wonder, though, if I may have enjoyed this more had I read it in the original Arabic. Anyway, the stories in this collection are less stories than vignettes, most of them depressing and hopeless. Rifaat writes about miserable women and awful men. While her stories ring true, it became wearying to read one vignette after another about a woman who hates her life. Since these vignettes were so short, it was also difficult to really identify with any of the characters, since there was so little time to get to know them. My favorite story in the collection was - surprise, surprise - the only story with a speculative element. In "My World of the Unknown" a woman seemingly begins a love affair with a female djinn who is in the guise of a snake. It's a very strange story without a conclusive ending, but I liked its plot and its potential. All the other stories were very realistic and down-to-earth. It seems like a book that was written by an Egyptian for other Egyptians, though, as I'm not really sure how accessible these stories are to non-Egyptians (or non-Arabs in general). They are raw and gritty and personal in a very culturally specific way, and I can see the casual Western reader feeling off-put and alienated by their content. I wouldn't say I enjoyed the stories in this book, but I did enjoy reading it, if only for the familiarity. I always enjoy reading books set in Egypt or about Egypt, but I probably wouldn't have finished a book like this otherwise.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Depressing and enlightening, making me pause and reflect, annoying, inspiring me to action...Alifa Rifaat manages to do all this in her little book of short stories. Whilst I wasn't in love with this book as I read it, I kept reading on and on, and I felt intruded upon whenever something or someone interrupted me as I read it. Simply written, it sucks you into the scene so that you are one with the character, living their life. These two sentences encapsulate what the book portrays the Arab woman's Depressing and enlightening, making me pause and reflect, annoying, inspiring me to action...Alifa Rifaat manages to do all this in her little book of short stories. Whilst I wasn't in love with this book as I read it, I kept reading on and on, and I felt intruded upon whenever something or someone interrupted me as I read it. Simply written, it sucks you into the scene so that you are one with the character, living their life. These two sentences encapsulate what the book portrays the Arab woman's life as: "In compliance to her husband, and for the sake of the children, she had submitted to the role of wife and mother, a woman protected by marriage and by the home that she would leave only when they bore her to her grave." "What was to stop me staying on in bed? I had grown tired of pretending I had jobs to do that filled my day, while in actual fact I had no role to fulfil.This state of affairs had been going on for a long time, ever since I had grown old and my children had grown up." I kept wondering to myself, if this is the life of a Muslim woman in a Muslim country, how do the Benazir Bhuttos of this world come to be? Bhutto does not seem a likely possibility given the world that has been painted in this book. Or is this just the view or the author? Or the view from her station in life? Or does it really represent the Arabic woman's life? And even while I thought the Arab woman's life depressing, this book is nothing like the typical, overdone portrayal of the suffering Muslim woman that is in many of the books written by the escaped Muslim woman. It also made me ask myself if there really is a meaning to life, or if life means what we make it mean. Is my life about the projects I make up? The meaning I give to it? What I make important? The meaning my sole creation? I will surely read this book again.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    Brilliantly constructed short stories. My favorites are "Badriyya and Her Husband," about a woman who has become an unwitting beard for an insatiable bottom, and "My World of the Unknown," featuring a lesbian djinn. Brilliantly constructed short stories. My favorites are "Badriyya and Her Husband," about a woman who has become an unwitting beard for an insatiable bottom, and "My World of the Unknown," featuring a lesbian djinn.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tereneh

    The interesting element of this book is this idea: "Okay men, if this is your world, your rules, cool. As a woman I will follow them if you hold up your end of the bargain." The stories for the most part show men are not living up to the bargain, so that becomes the issue. In many ways it is how we all live in different societies or within different organizations: family, work, relationships, etc. What do we give away and what do we receive in its place? For the women in these stories their expe The interesting element of this book is this idea: "Okay men, if this is your world, your rules, cool. As a woman I will follow them if you hold up your end of the bargain." The stories for the most part show men are not living up to the bargain, so that becomes the issue. In many ways it is how we all live in different societies or within different organizations: family, work, relationships, etc. What do we give away and what do we receive in its place? For the women in these stories their expectations are often not met. Because of this a paradigm shift needs to occur. I think this is true not only in places like Egypt but also in America as well politically, socially, economically. It is easy to point and say, "That is awful! Look at that horrible place!" But this book made me think about my own life too.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Vicki

    Much to my surprise, this book starts out in bed with a couple, and the woman has given up trying to figure out how to get her husband to please her in bed. She ruminates about this throughout most of the act, and then gets out of bed to go shower and make tea. Returning to the bedroom to bring her husband tea, she realizes he's died and calls to her son to get the doctor. It's oddly dispassionate and not at all what I expected to read in a Middle Eastern Muslim woman author's work. So it clearl Much to my surprise, this book starts out in bed with a couple, and the woman has given up trying to figure out how to get her husband to please her in bed. She ruminates about this throughout most of the act, and then gets out of bed to go shower and make tea. Returning to the bedroom to bring her husband tea, she realizes he's died and calls to her son to get the doctor. It's oddly dispassionate and not at all what I expected to read in a Middle Eastern Muslim woman author's work. So it clearly broke some stereotypes for me. I found the quality of the stories to be a little uneven. Some of them were economical and charming and others I found oppressive and filled with death. Death is an ever present theme throughout the stories, as is familial relations, especially duties between parents and children.

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