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Memoirs from the Women's Prison

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Often likened to Rigoberta Menchu and Nadine Gordimer, Nawal El Saadawi is one of the world's leading feminist authors. Director of Health and Education in Cairo, she was summarily dismissed from her post in 1972 for her political writing and activities. In 1981 she was imprisoned by Anwar Sadat for alleged "crimes against the State" and was not released until after his as Often likened to Rigoberta Menchu and Nadine Gordimer, Nawal El Saadawi is one of the world's leading feminist authors. Director of Health and Education in Cairo, she was summarily dismissed from her post in 1972 for her political writing and activities. In 1981 she was imprisoned by Anwar Sadat for alleged "crimes against the State" and was not released until after his assassination. Memoirs from the Women's Prison offers both firsthand witness to women's resistance to state violence and fascinating insights into the formation of women's community. Saadawi describes how political prisoners, both secular intellectuals and Islamic revivalists, forged alliances to demand better conditions and to maintain their sanity in the confines of their cramped cell. Saadawi's haunting prose makes Memoirs an important work of twentieth-century literature. Recognized as a classic of prison writing, it touches all who are concerned with political oppression, intellectual freedom, and personal dignity.


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Often likened to Rigoberta Menchu and Nadine Gordimer, Nawal El Saadawi is one of the world's leading feminist authors. Director of Health and Education in Cairo, she was summarily dismissed from her post in 1972 for her political writing and activities. In 1981 she was imprisoned by Anwar Sadat for alleged "crimes against the State" and was not released until after his as Often likened to Rigoberta Menchu and Nadine Gordimer, Nawal El Saadawi is one of the world's leading feminist authors. Director of Health and Education in Cairo, she was summarily dismissed from her post in 1972 for her political writing and activities. In 1981 she was imprisoned by Anwar Sadat for alleged "crimes against the State" and was not released until after his assassination. Memoirs from the Women's Prison offers both firsthand witness to women's resistance to state violence and fascinating insights into the formation of women's community. Saadawi describes how political prisoners, both secular intellectuals and Islamic revivalists, forged alliances to demand better conditions and to maintain their sanity in the confines of their cramped cell. Saadawi's haunting prose makes Memoirs an important work of twentieth-century literature. Recognized as a classic of prison writing, it touches all who are concerned with political oppression, intellectual freedom, and personal dignity.

30 review for Memoirs from the Women's Prison

  1. 5 out of 5

    Clumsy Storyteller

    Great memoir by a Great author/ doctor i love Nawal Al Saadawi she had my attention and admiration when she spoke about gender equality and after reading her journal in women's prison i respect her even more. i don't care what's your religion or thoughts about what she does, No one deserves to be imprisoned with no charges or just for speaking her mind! Nawal was born a free woman in a misogynist society, she refused to be treated with nothing but respect , she fought for equal rights for men an Great memoir by a Great author/ doctor i love Nawal Al Saadawi she had my attention and admiration when she spoke about gender equality and after reading her journal in women's prison i respect her even more. i don't care what's your religion or thoughts about what she does, No one deserves to be imprisoned with no charges or just for speaking her mind! Nawal was born a free woman in a misogynist society, she refused to be treated with nothing but respect , she fought for equal rights for men and women and was imprisoned for it. in this book Nawal talked about her experience of life behind bars and how it changed her perspective on life in general! These are some of my favorite quotes:

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jaspreet

    There are some book titles which catch the eye of people passing by and folks cannot help but comment. Memoirs from the Women's Prison by Nawal El Saadawi is one of the books. I read this book while waiting for w squared to begin, on the airplane, and while waiting for my car to get serviced. One of my new favorite t-shirt says "Speak Justice." When I wear the t-shirt while reading the book, several folks did double takes. This amused me. My favorite exchange about this book went something like There are some book titles which catch the eye of people passing by and folks cannot help but comment. Memoirs from the Women's Prison by Nawal El Saadawi is one of the books. I read this book while waiting for w squared to begin, on the airplane, and while waiting for my car to get serviced. One of my new favorite t-shirt says "Speak Justice." When I wear the t-shirt while reading the book, several folks did double takes. This amused me. My favorite exchange about this book went something like this: Woman: Is that book any good? Me: Yes, it is about a woman in Egypt who is imprisoned for her writing which questioned the government. Woman: I have really gotten into women's prison writing. The torture, the beatings, the harsh conditions are more than people can bear. How do these women survive? Me (feeling the need to clarify): This woman has actually not been beaten or tortured. Her writing is powerful because she describes being in prison without explanation. She spends her day in a cell with a lot of other women and has not seen her family in over a month. Woman (looking very puzzled): How can it be a prison without torture? I did not know how to respond to that comment. What I do know is that this book is incredible. I got the book from Beth with the inscription, "Inspiration to live aligned with your passion, integrity, and conviction." The book delivered on that promise. There are several passages that illustrate the power of writing; how a state's restriction and response to the written word impacts freedom and democracy. What does it say about a society when the government can say things are fair and just while folks are put in prison for their thoughts? The images of the cramped prison cell, the poor plumbing, and the writer's transformation made me feel as though I was with her the entire time.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    This book was required reading for my Global Literature class at the University of Utah. El Saadawi relates her experience in prison with the bold voice of truth and bravery. Her fight against corruption and the oppression of free speech and women's rights will resonate with readers long after the final page is turned. This book was required reading for my Global Literature class at the University of Utah. El Saadawi relates her experience in prison with the bold voice of truth and bravery. Her fight against corruption and the oppression of free speech and women's rights will resonate with readers long after the final page is turned.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Oumaima Boutbagha

    I've always respected Dr. Saadaoui. Such an amazing personality, brave and defending everything she stands for no matter what. The book is great. The language is so simple which eases the way of each idea and emotion so that you can fully grasp it. It's funny, how sometimes I'd imagine a person eveb before she starts describing them, and then find my image completely identical to her description. It showed me how I was so into the book and the stories it tells. I related to many things in this b I've always respected Dr. Saadaoui. Such an amazing personality, brave and defending everything she stands for no matter what. The book is great. The language is so simple which eases the way of each idea and emotion so that you can fully grasp it. It's funny, how sometimes I'd imagine a person eveb before she starts describing them, and then find my image completely identical to her description. It showed me how I was so into the book and the stories it tells. I related to many things in this book, same injustices people live everyday in my home country, and I was thrilled to read how women endure it all, and still fight even more than men sometimes in a so called '' Arab country''. I was sad when I finished reading, I enjoyed every bit of it. I even left the last ten pages unread for a week and kept re-reading the other pages so that I could still say '' I haven't finished it yet''. Enjoy it, it's really worth it! :)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rana Rafeh

    3.5 stars

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lina Halim

    An account of the life of a prominent Egyptian writer’s experience being senators by Sadat during his last few months in power. The urge of writing in a reality were pen and paper are more dangerous weapons than any rifle gun. A call for nationalism, peace and human rights from the women’s barrage prison. An important read to understand militantisme under dictatorship in a Muslim country.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    This is a compelling memoir by Egyptian writer and women's rights advocate Nawal el Saadawi of her time as a political prisoner under the regime of Anwar Sadat. In it she forcefully argues against the arbitrariness of the repression under Sadat and shoots darts at those who relinquish their freedom of speech and integrity in order to curry favour from a deeply unjust ruling clique. But beyond her politics, the memoir also offers a glimpse into the relationships built between the female prisoners This is a compelling memoir by Egyptian writer and women's rights advocate Nawal el Saadawi of her time as a political prisoner under the regime of Anwar Sadat. In it she forcefully argues against the arbitrariness of the repression under Sadat and shoots darts at those who relinquish their freedom of speech and integrity in order to curry favour from a deeply unjust ruling clique. But beyond her politics, the memoir also offers a glimpse into the relationships built between the female prisoners and how this sustains prison life. Sadaawi's compassion towards her fellow female prisoners is apparent throughout the book, foreshadowing her feminist novel Woman at Point Zero.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Madeleine McLaughlin

    I don't know much about modern Egypt so I read this book about a famous women writer sent to jail because of Sadat. Very interesting and not the horror story of other middle-east women who have been to prison, these women were relatively well-treated. No torture. If you want to learn about this woman or Egypt, then try this small book. I don't know much about modern Egypt so I read this book about a famous women writer sent to jail because of Sadat. Very interesting and not the horror story of other middle-east women who have been to prison, these women were relatively well-treated. No torture. If you want to learn about this woman or Egypt, then try this small book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I will read anything this woman has written and will not stop til I've read everything out there which has been translated to English :') She is such an inspiration to me and millions of women and men around the globe, which now continues after her death and will for many, many more generations, I'm sure. One of my favourite passages of hers in the afterword - "Danger has been a part of my life ever since I picked up a pen and wrote. Nothing is more perilous than truth in a world that lies. Nothi I will read anything this woman has written and will not stop til I've read everything out there which has been translated to English :') She is such an inspiration to me and millions of women and men around the globe, which now continues after her death and will for many, many more generations, I'm sure. One of my favourite passages of hers in the afterword - "Danger has been a part of my life ever since I picked up a pen and wrote. Nothing is more perilous than truth in a world that lies. Nothing is more perilous than knowledge in a world that has considered knowledge a sin since Adam and Eve. But I don't feel the danger, perhaps because it is a part of my life, just as a train or airplane passenger doesn't sense the motion, once having become a part of it."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    My oh my, I really enjoyed every word in this book. The whole book talks about the time Nawal El-Saadawi was in jail because she was - still - someone who advocate for free speech. She talks in detail the whole process of how she got caught and how life in prison was for a while under Anwar Al Sadat rule. It is my favorite book by her so far. One of the things I enjoyed She always put her flashback and thoughts between the lines. I will definitely going to reread this book again.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Reema Tbaileh

    This book was a nice read,, trying to find hope while you are in your lowest low,, forcing your body to adapt and keeping your sanity,, standing for your beliefs no matter what this lady is so powerful and and strong

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nawrast

    Very important book about women's expierence in prison Very important book about women's expierence in prison

  13. 5 out of 5

    lalo🌸

    No rating. Read it for a class

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey Lee

    This book rocked my world so severely. Nothing has made me believe in the strength of the human spirit quite like this very strong womens story.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Westbrook

    I never want to be imprisoned in a developing world prison. That's an understatement. This book was beautifully written, but not all that interesting. I never want to be imprisoned in a developing world prison. That's an understatement. This book was beautifully written, but not all that interesting.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Joanna

    An amazing read. Very eye opening. Inspiring work by a woman dedicated to the liberation of women's rights. Really put into perspective the progress made when compared to present day issues. An amazing read. Very eye opening. Inspiring work by a woman dedicated to the liberation of women's rights. Really put into perspective the progress made when compared to present day issues.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Yasmeen Abdlhak

    A book i will never forget

  18. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    Nawal El Saadawi was the Director of Health and Education in Cairo and a radical political writer before she was dismissed from her post in 1972 and arrested for "crimes against the state" in 1981. She wasn't released until after Anwar Sadat was assassinated. She describes her arrest and firsthand accounts of life in the women's prison, how she clung to writing as a way to get her through. I was a little uncomfortable with some of Nawal's positions, but isn't that why we read? To examine our dis Nawal El Saadawi was the Director of Health and Education in Cairo and a radical political writer before she was dismissed from her post in 1972 and arrested for "crimes against the state" in 1981. She wasn't released until after Anwar Sadat was assassinated. She describes her arrest and firsthand accounts of life in the women's prison, how she clung to writing as a way to get her through. I was a little uncomfortable with some of Nawal's positions, but isn't that why we read? To examine our discomfort and inform ourselves?

  19. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    When I saw the title of the book, I thought it would be grim and dark. But on the contratry, Nawal El Saadawi emits strength and hope through her writing even in the most desperate situations. We need more women like Nawal El Saadawi who are not afraid to speak up and demand for their rights in the face of oppression. This memoir felt novel-like with effortleslly flowing and eloquate writing. I enjoyed how Nawal El Saadawi brought presence to everything she did and savoured the small moments of j When I saw the title of the book, I thought it would be grim and dark. But on the contratry, Nawal El Saadawi emits strength and hope through her writing even in the most desperate situations. We need more women like Nawal El Saadawi who are not afraid to speak up and demand for their rights in the face of oppression. This memoir felt novel-like with effortleslly flowing and eloquate writing. I enjoyed how Nawal El Saadawi brought presence to everything she did and savoured the small moments of joy, friendship and gratitude.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sophia Steiner

    “Fearing servility, people become servile.” “We will destroy this prison! We will not die without noise!” “True democracy obtains only when the people - women, men, young people, children - have the ability to change the system of industrial capitalism that has oppressed them since the earliest days of slavery: a system based on class division, patriarchy, and military might, a hierarchical system that subjugated people merely because they are born poor, or female, or dark-skinned.”

  21. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Linzy

    In this memoir of her time as a political prisoner, Saadawi recalls how imprisoned women reached across intellectual divides to form alliances to advocate for better treatment. This account of Egyptian women's resistance to state violence offers fascinating insights into the formation of the women's community. In this memoir of her time as a political prisoner, Saadawi recalls how imprisoned women reached across intellectual divides to form alliances to advocate for better treatment. This account of Egyptian women's resistance to state violence offers fascinating insights into the formation of the women's community.

  22. 5 out of 5

    sarah rogan

    found this on a shelf of books that hav been left behind at natalias appt. very quickly became a new book that i would 10/10 recommend to anyone. i hav notes all over the margins. rlly if ur interested in freedom of speech and women’s studies read this <3

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Mariana Bengtsson

    “Danger has been a part of my life ever since I picked up a pen and wrote. Nothing is more perilous than truth in a world that lies. Nothing is more perilous than knowledge in a world that has considered knowledge a sin since Adam and Eve” - Nawal El Saadawi, 1994

  24. 5 out of 5

    reba m

    i cried i wanna b a doctor

  25. 4 out of 5

    Marie-Catherine

    I read it in English, very interesting book. I traveled through it and felt like I lived her experience. May her soul rest in peace.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Vika Gardner

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. El Sa'adawi's perspective is unambiguous -- and may not be shared by all. But her cry for democracy and the right to argue for human rights is an important one for Americans to hear, coming from an Egyptian woman. Perhaps I'm dreaming when I think that her cry against imprisonment without charges, overly dictatorial leaders will resonate with American students whose government continues to operate a prison without formally charging or prosecuting its occupants. I hope I'm not dreaming that her b El Sa'adawi's perspective is unambiguous -- and may not be shared by all. But her cry for democracy and the right to argue for human rights is an important one for Americans to hear, coming from an Egyptian woman. Perhaps I'm dreaming when I think that her cry against imprisonment without charges, overly dictatorial leaders will resonate with American students whose government continues to operate a prison without formally charging or prosecuting its occupants. I hope I'm not dreaming that her book will resonate with college students, since I've assigned it for my history class for the fall! The whole book -- an autobiography -- occurs over about a month. El Sa'adawi is the woman we might hope to be, standing up to authority, knowing her rights and demanding them, not giving in to despair and degradation. In some cases, however, she seems entirely oblivious to her own class privilege, no matter how often she mentions her peasant beginnings.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    Wow, I can't believe how much more effective this was than her fiction! It's Ms. Saadawi's account of her unjust arrest and imprisonment in the early 80's. The writing is clear and vivid- descriptive, but more journalistic than the emotionally charged prose of her fiction. I wish it were more closely edited, though- there are some weird, disorienting tense shifts (sloppy translating?) but maybe later editions address those issues. I'll be reviewing it for The Blue Bookcase next week. Wow, I can't believe how much more effective this was than her fiction! It's Ms. Saadawi's account of her unjust arrest and imprisonment in the early 80's. The writing is clear and vivid- descriptive, but more journalistic than the emotionally charged prose of her fiction. I wish it were more closely edited, though- there are some weird, disorienting tense shifts (sloppy translating?) but maybe later editions address those issues. I'll be reviewing it for The Blue Bookcase next week.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Penelope, pronounced comme tu veux

    I've heard Nawaal talk about writing this book (I even got to drive her to a talk about creativity) and I was wondering if anyone had any copies kicking around? I've heard Nawaal talk about writing this book (I even got to drive her to a talk about creativity) and I was wondering if anyone had any copies kicking around?

  29. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    outstanding yet horrifying.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jamila

    This is one of my favorite books from college.

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