She Has No Place in Paradise
It’s always exciting to talk about the afterworld! Where would one go after death, paradise or hell? —if there’s something as such. As humorously said, ‘you’ll know only if you die’. But what if someone happens to see paradise, for real, every so often before death. Nawal El Saadawi pictures the life and afterlife of an Arab woman in her short story, “She has no place in Paradise”.
I thought it’s so rightful to start the Arab writer series with Nawal El Saadawi for the inevitable contribution she’s been making to Arab women society.
“She has no Place in Paradise”
Zeinab opens her eyes, it’s dark around and feels like a dream— the familiar dream— she had died and woken to find herself in paradise! She fears that even the blink of her eyelids would change the scene, or it might disappear as it had done before. The recurring dream upsets her, but the picture is enchanting: her husband did not beat her. The pile of dung was no longer on her head, neither did the earth burn the soles of her feet and her husband holding her hand in his.
She grew up listening to her mother’s several mentions of paradise. Whenever her husband beats and throws her out, she runs to her father only to be beaten back and sent to her husband. Her mother would say ‘go back Zeinab. Paradise will be yours in the hereafter’. And now’s the time, she’s covered in a white shroud probably in her grave waiting for heaven.
She could hear the voices of people, the most disturbing is an argument of the two men over her final world. One vouches for her integrity for paradise and the other retorts that she must undergo the torture of the grave. The second man reasons that her hair had shown from under her white scarf, that she’d dyed her hair red with henna, that the hennaed heels of her feet had shown under her robe.
Although the charges are baseless, she lies motionless and holds her breath pretending to be dead. Because, she’s so excited to enjoy the eternity in paradise with her husband, as heard from her mother several times.
Finally, she sighs relief as she feels light and floating in the air— Yes, it’s Paradise! Fascinated by the house of red brick standing there, she enters and climbs a staircase. In the middle, she [sees] a wide bed, on top of it her husband, sitting like a bridegroom. She’s astonished to see her husband in the hands of houris (beautiful virgins that the Quran promises for a devout Muslim in paradise) whose skin is as white as honey. [Zeinab returns] to the earth, saying to herself: There’s no place in paradise for a black woman.
Zeinab who’s believed, all her life, that a woman has no purpose except to serve and endure men of her family, now turns her back to her afterlife. Towards the end of this story, I had a very complicated emotion and interpreting it was the challenging part. I wonder the way Nawal El Saadawi has tightly packed so many crucial aspects of Arab women’s life in just a few minutes’ read!
She Has No Place in Paradise (1987), a short story collection translated by Shirley Eber, with a few other stories is a platter of Arab women and their lives. The title story is one of her masterpieces and my favourite!
Nawal El Saadawi (1931)
An Egyptian writer, psychiatrist and feminist who advocates for Islamic women and, against the female genital mutilation in her society. Her controversial work Women and Sex (1972) aroused political and religious hatred against her including dismissal from the Egyptian Ministry of Health. Other influential works include Memoir from the Women’s Prison (1986) and Women at Point Zero (1975).
I’ve always wanted to put my reading experience into writing—venting out. With the fecund digital and social space, I’ve decided now the right time to plunge into my ambitious desire of getting to know as many women writers across the world, through their works, regardless of their geographic and ethnic existence. Yet, I’m against the idea of branding my blog as feminist as I choose to read on them purely for the writers’ purport and their ardent works.
I’d like you to be a part of my reading journey and get to know along with me the women writers who’ve been silently transfiguring their areas of interest.