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This review is taken from PN Review 61, Volume 14 Number 5, May - June 1988.

UNDER EGYPTIAN EYES Nawal el-Saadawi, God dies by the Nile, translated by Sherif Hetata (Zed Books), £3.95
Nawal el-Saadawi, Two women in one, translated by Osman Nusairi and Jana Gough (Al Saqi Books, distributed by Zed Books), £3.95

'A girl moves from her father's house to a husband's and suddenly changes from a non-sexual being with no sexual organs to a sexual creature who sleeps, wakes, eats and drinks sex. With amazing stupidity, they think that those parts that have been cut away can somehow return, and that murdered, dead, and satiated desire can be revived.' The concern with polarized gender roles and the destructive role of sexuality in a culture where it is repressed recurs in el-Saadawi's work, but while Two women in one achieves a rather loosely-structured balance of ideas of self and sex, political role and individuality, the later work God dies by the Nile is the tautly-plotted story of Egypt's village society trapped in cycles of control and victimization in which women are a mere part of an oppressed class. While God dies traces chains of action and causation in its small society, Two women relies so heavily upon metaphor that its heroine's daily movements are themselves subsumed into the metaphorical. Walking to a lover's apartment for the first time 'She had never walked up a mountain road, as she was doing now. Her life had always run on flat, horizontal lines. Her home was on the ground floor . . .'

Yet although Two women is concerned with the heroine's consciousness and her attempts to create liberating modes of expression, el-Saadawi's figures are always seen as judged by those around them. 'If anyone had seen her, they would have thought ...


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