I only recently learnt about her but I have cultivated a lot of respect for her.
In either case, this novel, Woman at Point Zero, recounts the fictional story of the mysterious Firdaus, a woman on death row in an Egyptian prison patiently awaiting her execution. She describes her childhood of poverty, abuse, and neglect. Despite excelling in school and wanting to go on to university, she is married off to a much older man, a widower who is not only grotesque and miserly but is physically and emotionally abusive towards her. She runs away and tries to make a living on her own but at every turn she is met by manipulative and abusive people (predominantly men) and ends up as a high-class prostitute. In the end, it is one of these men she kills.
It is a little book with an angry and bitter tone. It is a quick read slowed only by the emotional roller-coaster it takes you through (if you have any empathy for Firdaus and the world in which she lives that is).
As a prostitute, she realises that she can exert power over men by rejecting them, something she couldn’t do as an honourable wife. When she is sentenced to death for killing a man who wanted to control her by being her pimp she states “My life means their death. My death means their life.” Elsewhere, “for death and truth are similar in that they both require a great courage if one wishes to face them. And truth is like death in that it kills. When I killed I did it with truth not with a knife”. Firdaus bravely faces her execution without fear, without regret, a free woman at last.
So what is her truth? The truth of hypocrisy and the truth of how men oppress women. She states “Yet not for a single moment did I have any doubts about my own integrity and honour as a woman. I knew that my profession [prostitution] had been invented by men, and that men were in control of both our worlds, the one on earth, and the one in heaven. That men force women to sell their bodies at a price, and that the lowest paid body is that of a wife.”
I will admit that that rubbed me wrong on so many levels. Afterall, I do want to be a wife one day. But it did give me pause for thought.
My most favourite quote, the one that motivated me to read this book, goes “all the men I did get to know, every single man of them, has filled me with but one desire: to lift my hand and bring it smashing down on his face”.
Well, OK then.