|About the Book|
I was surprised when I saw the rating for Woman at Point Zero . To me, it was a solid five-star book. When I scrolled through the reviews, I noticed many, many five star and four star reviews, but there was a pervasive theme of how she seemed unrelatable and fake. I completely disagree.First of all, Woman at Point Zero is a short read, 114 pages at the most. In three chapters, Firdaus life story is framed by the authors own narrative, which develops from vaguely superior and curious to shocked and humbled. I had trouble reading this book, mostly because I wanted to find a quiet place where I could read it all in one setting and digest this magnificent womans life.Secondly, people seem to forget that they arent reading a fictional story. In fiction, one is expected to connect with the main character, which is why authors continue to fall back on the age-old archetypes and standards. What readers often dont realize is that they are not relating to a protagonist or deuteragonist or antagonist that reminds them of themselves, but rather relating to an ideal, something that they wish they were or qualities that they think they possess, following a story that they wish they could go through. Its also probably one of the reasons why people find this story to be unbelievable, paradoxically. Fictional works often have the reader suspend their disbelief in order to spin a tale of growth and fairy tale morals. In non-fiction, there is no sugar. When the truth is reached, its not because she was an underdog who reached the top with the help of her friends and family and familiar, its because shes had everything stripped away from her and has been left with nothing to lose.People dont like that. People would rather read happy tales that dont end up in front of the firing squad waiting to be executed. Exploring the depths of human nature and societal structures is a threat to all we find to be normal or safe.This brings me to the next point Id like to make. Culturally, Egypt is extremely different from the Western countries, which have a history of being comparatively liberal. Maybe execution for killing a man seems excessive to us, but to them, she is a woman. The lowest of the low, beaten, caged, and silenced. Pure. Shes a prostitute. A whore. She lives in a land of intolerance, one so patriarchal that a womans word is worth half of a mans. Shes essentially considered subhuman in her country, which is also one with a habit of almost unrestrained violence among the classes.If that sounds familiar, it should. Racial oppression, social oppression, and sexual oppression are more than related.I approached this book with hopefully an open mind, but truthfully, I would never have even considered reading such a slim book if my mom hadnt first picked it up and asked me, Why would your cousin--male--have to read a womans book? Its completely inappropriate. Immediately, I asked her why she would say that, and she couldnt give me an answer. I asked her if she thought it was inappropriate for me to read books written by men about men (i.e. the majority of books Ive read for school in the past five years). She couldnt give me an answer.So, in all honesty, I approached this book with a feminist point of view and I was sucked in. It may seem a little unrealistic for Firdaus to have encountered so much suffering at the hands of men, but I know that its more than possible. After all, statistics dont usually lie. No wonder she hated men by the end of her story. Only when she held herself up by herself did she manage to flourish as best as she could, but even that was taken away at the end.By the end of the book, I realized two things that the people who reviewed before me had often missed.1) Firdaus is not the main character of the story. She is the central character, but not a character. She is a symbol of the oppressed, those who have nothing for themselves except their bodies and minds. We are not expected to be able to sympathize with her, despite her courage and dead reality. Instead, we must be like the author who listened to her story, who is, in fact, us. We are the ones who do not understand because we live in a world built on lies, where we pretend that we are above the common streetwalker. We arent.2) It would be wrong to label this book as a feminist novel. Really, its a feminist novel because the central character is female and it focuses on her struggle to maintain dignity and strength even when she has nothing. It would be labeled an LGBTQQ novel if the main character were a lesbian. What if it were about a straight man who prostituted himself to survive? Does it seem even less believable now?This is a story about finding the truth. And the truth is not that women cant survive without men. Its not that all men are scum. Its that life is cruel and that power is dangerous in the wrong hands and that too much power corrupts. It reveals the diseases of society and how people are so blind and unwilling to change because there is always someone below them and because there is always some irrational reason to keep them from changing. It shows the futility of revolution and the futility of a singular being attempting change. Its a cautionary tale from a woman who lived her life like all of us, constantly seeking happiness.I urge everybody to read this book. Its a learning experience, if not an enjoyable one.