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Distant View of a Minaret, by Alifa Rifaat.

January 15, 2014
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Distant View of a Minaret, by Alifa Rifaat.     Heinemann (1987), Paperback, 126 pages.  (African Writers Series).



Sharply honest stories by an Egyptian writing from within the isolated world of Muslim women. Very well crafted.

Alifa Rifaat  (1930-1996) was an Egyptian woman, deeply committed to her Muslim faith and sensitive to the deep pain of women.  She was educated, but entered an arranged marriage and remained isolated from modern, western ideas.  Many books by and about Muslim women defend or attack Islamic treatment of women.  Rifaat does neither; she simply writes from the inside of women’s lives, sometimes chiding Muslim men for not living up to their obligations to women.

Rifaat’s stories are striking.  Some are only a couple of pages long.  Most deal with women and how they cope with the loneliness and neglect.  Some are explicitly sexual; one of them depicting a woman lying next to her satisfied husband her own desires unsatisfied.  Some of the stories have a touch of magic.  In one a woman moves into a “haunted house” where she is seduced by a female snake who gives her sexual pleasure she had never received from a man.  The stories often took me by surprise; often ending with an unexpected twist.  A mother conspires with her daughter to trick her husband, working abroad for a year, into thinking that the girl’s illegitimate child is really the mother’s.

Not all of Rifaat’s stories focus on women. Death is a common theme of hers, and in her stories both women and men die or are affected by the death of another.  In one a man who has grown away from his parents and village returns for his father’s funeral and realizes how much he has missed by not sharing with his family when he still had a chance.

Rifaat is quite simply a fine writer, able to convey the intermixing of beauty and pain.  She simply sends chills down my spine.  I strongly recommend her book of stories to other readers, especially those interested in Muslim women, or women in the Middle East.  And to all who like powerful short stories.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2014 4:10 am

    I have got this in my TBR for a while now. I hope to lay my hands on it soon. Thanks for the review.

  2. January 16, 2014 5:15 am

    Wonderful review, Marilyn. Indeed Alifa Rifaat is a powerful writer who writes with passion . I also have a review of this book on my blog. 🙂 Maybe you could read it when you have time. 🙂

  3. aartichapati permalink
    January 19, 2014 6:12 pm

    Sounds like a fantastic way to learn about the Islamic world from someone who truly does understand and live it.

    • January 19, 2014 7:14 pm

      Yes, but she shows the dark side of Islamic world more than others who live it such as Leila Aboulela.

  4. February 2, 2014 6:03 am

    I second your recommendation of this collection of short stories. It’s on my favorite 14 books of African literature. Her sensitive, honest portrayal of the interior of women’s lives is so needed and illuminating. Thanks for the review.

    • February 5, 2014 11:15 am

      That’s probably where I found out about it. Thanks.


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