Book Review: When life becomes redundant

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 24 Dec 2020

In an intense and small book, Nora Naguie explores the contradictions some women confront in motherhood

Book Cover
Book Cover

AlKatebat walwehda (Women Writers And Loneliness), Nora Naguie (Cairo: Dar El-Shorouk), pp11

It is not clear what novelist Nora Naguie was planning when she wrote AlKatebat walwehda (Women-writers and loneliness) that was published by El-Shorouk in 2020. The author might have wanted this small and intense book to serve as a selection of mini-literary biographies of a group of women writers who almost all bond through the manifestations of pain that is so severe to the extent that it breaks the soul and prompts a deep, at times urgent, wish for vanishing.

Naguie might have equally wanted her book to serve as documentation of the writings that offered these women an escape from the tumultuous thoughts and sentiments that had enslaved them for life and to the point of death. However, it is also possible that Naguie wanted her readers to come face to face with an attempt to break the silence.

Naguie is actually breaking the silence about her own captivating depression that had at times driven her too close to ending her life. In doing so, the author, who is also a novelist, is almost hiding behind the equally agonising lives other women writers had: Enayat ElZayyat, Eman Merssal, Valery Solanas, Elena Ferrante, Mai Goubran, Aroah Saleh and Virginia Woolf.

Naugie is going a step further to break the silence about what she calls “one of the biggest taboos” — the disconnect that some women have with the children they carry in their swollen wombs while their souls are broken. She admits to a sense of guilt she felt for having failed to feel or love her own child during nine months of pregnancy. But in so doing she is talking about the unease that many of the women authors she chose to write about felt about pregnancy and motherhood.

Most of Naguie’s women authors have gone from abusive households into abusive relationships to end up with feeling abused by motherhood. Naguie herself does not venture much into the corridors of her own childhood and adolescence, except when she reveals, in a chapter on Nawal Saadawi, one of the most famous names associated with feminism in Egypt, that she was so lucky to escape the atrocity of female genital mutilation thanks to an open-minded father.

In her introduction, however, Naguie speaks quite abruptly of an unhappy marriage that took her away from everything she knew and left her with a child that she wanted so much to want and a sense of guilt that she divorced and became the parent that this child had to mostly depend on.

Radwa Ashour is the only exception to the other nine authors whose misery Naguie wrote about. Ashour was not abused and she never rejected her motherhood. She was so well surrounded with love and admiration.

Then again, as Naugie noted ruing reading Ashoru’s last title, ‘Athqal min Radwa’ (Heavier than Radwa), Ashour just happened to know how to co-exist with her own depression  - maybe because she did not have time for loneliness where or maybe because what tormented Ashour was not her own life but the agony of the lives of others that she would have wanted to rescue.

Despite its many profound questions, AlKatebat walwehda is an easy and very concise read.

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