A Sister to Scheherazade
author : assia djebar
pages : [paperback] 176
favorite character : hajila
Isma and Hajila are both wives of the same man, but they are not rivals.
Isma – older, vibrant, passionate, emancipated – is in stark contrast to the passive, cloistered Hajila. In alternating chapters, Isma tells her own story in the first person, and then Hajila’s in the second person. She details how she escaped from the traditional restraints imposed upon the women of her country – and how, in making her escape, she condemns Hajila to those very restraints. When Hajila catches a glimpse of an unveiled woman, she realized that she, too, wants a life beyond the veil, and it is Isma who offers her the key to her own freedom.
Sister to Scheherazade is a fascinating story of female oppression framed by the story of Scheherazade. She is a woman who escapes death every morning by refusing to tell the end of her story to her husband, who wants to kill her but keeps delaying her death so that he might hear the end of her tales. Eventually he falls in love with her and she isn’t in danger of being murdered any longer. Hajila is in danger as well but from a different kind of death. Because she is forced to veil herself completely, because her family wishes and expects for her to remain inside her home like a proper woman would do, she will suffer a kind of death from the world and also lose a sense of self.
I really liked how the story was narrated. Isma is telling Hajila’s story; it’s symbolic in itself that Hajila has no say in what is told about her life. Hajila is the ‘you’ of the book while Isma remains the ‘I’, having freed herself of her husband who would have controlled and restricted all of her movements. While of course I hate reading about women who are treated so terribly, I can appreciate this book for it’s presentation of this flawed society in which little freedoms can seem like enough to live for. It’s terrible that women need to live their lives this way, completely under the constraints of men.
I don’t think that the writing was strong enough to carry the characters. While there were many short, powerful lines, I feel like the style didn’t do enough to make up for a rather passive plot. Isma is telling her story but she needs to make up much of it for Hajila because she can only imagine how the other woman might feel. There aren’t many incidents or exciting things that happen in this book.
I would certainly recommend it, not for a pleasurable read but something that will be thought-provoking and promote helping women around the world find equality and freedom.