How I came by the book
I bought this book from Antoine Library in Beirut at the end of 2018, while I was visiting Lebanon for three weeks. I’ve been wanting to read Arabic books, so I thought I’d buy a few books by contemporary women authors. Joumana’s book was one of them.
I read the book in Arabic and I fell in love with it. It is probably the most profound book I’ll read in 2019, and it really does make a contemporary on potentially every woman issue there is. It is beautifully written, poetic and haunting. I even handed it over to my grandfather to read, and he too agreed that it is artful and profound.
Joumana, through her magnificent writing, creates sense of melancholy in the reader. The characters are always searching, always longing and yearning for healing from their trauma. But the healing seems unreachable although multiple methods are used to reach that healing (suicide, substances, sex, rebellion and religion). As a reader, I felt that I was alongside the characters, also longing for that healing. She created that sense of yearning and urgency so well and so powerfully.
The plot is thick – it traverses three generations and is jam packed with sorrow, passion, violence, longing and all of the conflict that has plagued the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Armenian Genocide. And that is where the novel begins – the Armenian Genocide.
Joumana then takes us on a journey, with all of her melancholic, mournful, adventurous and wild female characters, through time in the Middle East, showcasing how conflict and violence impacts on her heroines’ lives. The readers passes through the exile of the Palestinians from their homelands, to the Lebanese Civil War, to post war violence in Lebanon and the bloody conflict in Syria.
I won’t go into the characters here but I will say that they are all compelling. I, as a young Lebanese woman, could relate to a few of them – and that is also part of the reason I love the book so much.
Pop Culture and Themes
Jouaman explores so much in this book. She touches upon history, politics, trauma and the inheritance of trauma, violence and how it begets more violence, and a lot of feminist themes, including sexual desire, abortion and divorce.
She explores the relationship between women in general and the bond between mother and daughter specifically, highlighting the sacrifices that mother’s make and the generational gap that sometimes estranges mother and daughter.
She touches upon sexual violence a few times throughout the book. The only objection that I had was that she included a scene with the rape of a young girl by an old man outside of the context of war. While I understand that Joumana probably wants to say that rape and paedophilia occur in the Middle East, I felt at that point it was overkill since she had touched upon so many other feminist issues within the book. That is my only criticism of the book.
I strongly recommend this book if you’re interested in contemporary women writing from the Arab world, specifically if you are interest in how feminist writers explore the concepts of their interest in their writing.
I strongly recommend this book if you are simply looking for a profound and melancholic read that has no filter but at the same time is poetic and not vulgar.
I loved reading The Seamstress’ Daughter and am giving it a 9.5/10