Egypt in the 70’s

Contributions of Five Major Women Writers

By Lynne Rogers

Egypt in the 70’s: Cultural Criticism in Egyptian Women’s Writing
By Caroline Seymour-Jorn
Syracuse UniversityPress, 2011

In her “Cultural Criticism in Egyptian Women’s Writing,” Caroline Seymour-Jorn takes both a literary and anthropological approach in her exploration of five major women writers of the Egyptian 70s. For each writer, Jorn gives a brief biographical sketch, comments about their role as a writer, a summary of the critical response to their work, and an examination of how each author manipulates the tension between classical and colloquial Arabic to provide a social criticism of Egyptian policy, society, and culture.

In her chapter on Salwa Bakr, Jorn cites the author as stating “that [Bakr’s] ultimate goal is to develop a style that meets with the standards of fusha but at the same time conveys the ways in which women (particularly uneducated women) experience the world.” Another chapter examines the Ibtihal Salem’s empathetic portrayals of women who are ultimately left on their own as well as the nostalgia that expresses her disenchantment with the consumerism and capitalism initiated by Sadat's “Open Door” policy and the rise of the religious fundamentalists. Discussing Nemat el-Behairy, Jorn points out that the author’s own struggle with poverty and sexism inform her work which also celebrates women’s “creativity and initiative to try to overcome the social, personal, and economic limitations imposed on them.” Then, Jorn moves on to El-Behairy’s frank treatment of sexuality provoked some surprising response such as the beloved novelist Ala al-Aswany’s charge of obscenity.In another section, Jorn analyzes Radwa Ashour’s “cause conscious” historical fiction that parallels political changes with the domestic life of women. Finally, for short story writer Etidal Osman, Jorn highlights her combination of Sufi spirituality with the folkloric tradition.

 Jorn appreciates the contexts, concerns, and innovations of these five major authors and “Cultural Criticism in Egyptian Women’s Writing” provides an accessible and thorough introduction to their work and milieu. In doing so, Jorn exposes her audience to the myriad ways that social, political, and cultural contexts that influence literary analysis.

This review appears in Al Jadid, Vol. 17, no. 64

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