Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps


5/30/08 Notable Quotables

When you’re less than halfway through a 6-hour bus ride and you find yourself at the end of your book, suddenly any printed text becomes fascinating. That’s how I found myself reading a New Yorker, a magazine I haven’t picked up since I flipped through it as a child and found the cartoons too few and the text too dense. The New Yorker I had on the bus was two years old, and had been in the pile of reading material provided by the Peace Corps librarian, but that didn’t faze me. Besides, I liked The Devil Wears Prada, and don’t mind reading a two-year-old review of it. :) And the two-year-old political commentary was interesting for how prescient a lot of it was.

A little later, as I was nearing the end of that, a friend reading another New Yorker – this one practically current – offered to swap with me. And that’s where I found “The Bell Ringer”, a work of fiction by John Burnside. About two-thirds of the way through, there’s a sentence that has been nagging my thoughts ever since I read it. (Oh, and the 3rd-person narrator is a European woman. If it matters.)

“Harley was always polite with her, in the way that Americans are: doggedly courteous and, at the same time, utterly remote, like the landing party in an old episode of “Star Trek,” curious and well-meaning and occasionally bewildered, but sworn not to interfere in the everyday life of their hosts.”

Why this continues to poke at me… is an exercise left to the reader.

But while I’m quoting, here are some beautiful passages from Dreams of Trespass (which I’ve now finished):

“Happiness, she would explain, was when a person felt good, light, creative, content, loving and loved, and free. An unhappy person felt as if there were barriers crushing her desires and the talents she had inside. A happy woman was one who could exercise all kinds of rights, from the right to move to the right to create, compete, and challenge, and at the same time could feel loved for doing so. Part of happiness was to be loved by a man who enjoyed your strength and was proud of your talents. Happiness was also about the right to privacy, the right to retreat from the company of others and plunge into contemplative solitude. Or to sit by yourself doing nothing for a whole day, and not give excuses or feel guilty about it either. Happiness was to be with loved ones, and yet still feel that you existed as a separate being, that you were not there just to make them happy. Happiness was when there was a balance between what you gave and what you took.” - p. 80

“To live in a combination of two worlds was much more appealing than living in just one. The idea of being able to swing between two cultures, two personalities, two codes, and two languages enchanted everyone! Mother wanted me to be like Princess Aisha (the teenage daughter of our King Mohammed V who made public speeches in both Arabic and French) who wore both long caftans and short French dresses. Indeed, we children found the thought of switching codes and languages to be as spellbinding as the sliding open of magic doors….” - p. 180

And this last bit is mostly for me, because it includes references to books I want to try to dig up. Feel free to skip it if you’re not a footnote reader.

“Among the feminists, or ra-idates – pioneers of women’s rights – three were special favorites of Chama: Aisha Taymour, Zaynab Fawwaz, and Huda Sh3raoui. [Footnote 1: Early feminists are quite famous in the Arab world, where there is a strong tradition of documenting women’s lives, accomplishments, and exploits in the form of “who’s who” compilations. Arab historians’ fascination with exceptional women has produced a distinct literary genre called nissaiyyat, from the word nissa, or women. Salah al-Din al-Mounajid, an admirer of outstanding women, listed some one hundred treatises on women in his “Ma ullifa ‘ani an-nissa” (What Was Written on Women), in the journal Majallat majma al-lugha l-3rabiyya (1941) vol 16, p 216. Unfortunately, the Arab feminists, who are key figures in the modern history of human rights in the Muslim world, are hardly known in the West. One very good profile of major Muslim feminists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and which could be very useful for Western readers if translated, is the first volume of Emily Nasrallah’s Women Pioneers, which exists at the moment in Arabic only (Beirut: Muassassat Nawfal, 1986).] …

“[Zaynab Fawwaz] had also published a “who’s who” of famous women in 1893, in which she had collected more than four hundred and fifty dazzling, eclectic biographies of role models for women, from Cleopatra to Queen Victoria of England… [Footnote 2: Zaynab Fawwaz al-Amili, Al-Durr al-Manthour fi Tabaqat Rabbat al-Khodour (Boulaq, Egypt: Al-Matba’a al-Kubra, 1985.] …

“[Footnote 3: Huda Sh3raoui is well known in the Arab world, and a glimpse of her extraordinary life can be caught in Margot Badran’s translation of a selection of her memoirs entitled Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist (London: Virago Press, 1986).” – p127-131

No comments:

Post a Comment

Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps