Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.
Our Women On The Ground: Arab Women Reporting From The Arab World (Amazon | Book Depository)
Edited by Zahra Hankir Foreword by Christiane Amanpour
Published by Penguin Books (2019)
ISBN: 0143133411 (ISBN13: 9780143133414). Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me and edited with an iPhone app. Book quote layouts done via Typorama.
I first learned about this book through Litsy (see here and here for my posts about this bookish app), and I immediately ordered the book via BookDepository. Apart from the fact that it fits our #WomenReadWomen2019 quite nicely (admittedly, not so much our quarterly theme on witches, although these women have been ostracized and vilified for their line of work, pretty much like witches of old), I am also hungry for narratives written from the Middle East, since we have just recently moved here. And this book definitely satisfied that need, and left me hankering for more.
There are 19 female journalists, whom Hankir referred to as sahafiyat, who contributed to this collection. I loved how Hankir has organized the essays into main themes, notwithstanding the expected overlaps across them: (1) Remembrances, (2) Crossfire, (3) Resilience, (4) Exile, and (5) Transition. While a few of these female journalists are not necessarily based currently in the Middle East, all of them have Arabic ancestry – and their voices here resound with so much clarity, with a power that is understated but even more intense because there is quiet certitude in the voices that do not need to shout in order to be heard. The mere presence of their insights situate women’s concerns in the forefront and surface women’s issues with such seductive subtlety that it does not need to shout out “Dismantle the Patriarchy” in a crass, witchy-like, repetitive, empty-sounding slogan. There is a sinuous, almost-sinister, and crafty way of highlighting women’s struggles amidst war, poverty, femicide that was just so startlingly nuanced and penetrating, it becomes its own country that does not necessarily need to be recognized in order to exist – it simply is, regardless of how other people perceive it or feel about it.
I very seldom have a visceral reaction when reading a book – the last time I remember being physically moved by a book was when I read Alice Walker’s Overcoming Speechlessness (see my review here), and of course Joe Sacco’s Palestine (see my review here) and Sacco’s Footnotes in Gaza (see my review here). But this one left me reeling that I had to take a breather in between essays, and start reading a feel-good fantasy novel, as palate cleanser, to rid myself of the feeling of vomit building up in my throat with so much pain, anguish, injustice.
This is what I have posted on my Litsy account as I was reading it:
All the essays made reference to the Arab Spring, there were mentions of the Syrian war and the resulting refugee crisis, the many issues faced by the women in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and the travails and challenges experienced by sahafiyat as they document misery, photograph deaths of babies ejected from their mothers’ wombs, and attempt to dissolve the physical pain they feel through straightforward reporting in the hopes of awakening people’s consciousness – only for the words to be drowned out by indifference, despair saturation, and the next big crisis that permeates the social media. It is not surprising that there were women who felt overwhelming helplessness and a few who have decided on a self-imposed exile for their own sanity.
As difficult as it was to read through some of the essays, I feel that this should be required reading for young people – maybe even the blinkered adults whose world view needs to be desperately expanded. This just made my best 2019 nonfiction read for the year.
#WomenReadWomen2019: 41 (out of target 25): Lebanon (Editor Zahra Hankir is a Lebanese-British journalist based in the UK)