Distant View of a Minaret : And Other Stories, Paperback
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More convincingly than any other woman writing in Arabic today, Alifa Rifaat, an Egyptian, lifts the veil on what it means to be a woman living within a traditional Muslim society. Her writing articulates a subtle revolt against, and a sympathetic insight into, the place of women in the essentially male-dominated Islamic environment.

Change, development, and understanding are called for but the invocation is couched in specifically Arab terms; her inspiration lies not in the Women's Movement of the West but remains within a strictly religious, even Orthodox Qur'anic framework.




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Distant View of a Minaret is a collection of 15 stories, all of them set in Egypt, mostly in Cairo. The protagonists are, in almost every case, women. They are women of all ages, economic circumstances, and states of mind. Most of the stories deal with times of passage: puberty, female circumcision, marriage, childbirth, separation, the death of a spouse or parent, and the death of the woman herself. All of the stories occur within the context of Islam, its daily rituals and its traditions governing sexual and family matters. Yet within this framework there is remarkable frankness. In the title story, "Distant View of a Minaret," a young married woman rues her husband's insensitivity to her sexual needs. In "An Incident in the Ghobashi Household," a mother finds a novel way to conceal her unmarried daughter's pregnancy. And in "My World of the Unknown," a story of scorching sensuality, a woman discovers sexual rapture with the help of an enchanted snake.Other stories focus on the poignant issues of aging, loneliness and death, offering a look at household and community life. In "At the Time of the Jasmine," one of the few stories focusing on a male character, a man's journey back home to bury his father brings him back in touch with the traditions and values of his youth. In "The Flat in Nakshabandi Street" an elderly woman's life has been reduced to the view of a single street from her third story window. Finally, "Just Another Day" brings the collection to a close by following the thoughts of a woman as she slips peacefully from this life to the next.Alifa Rifaat (1930-1996) was in most respects a typical Arab woman: she was a devout Muslim, did not attend college, spoke only Arabic, and seldom traveled outside her native Egypt. It is all the more surprising, therefore, that her work is that of an accomplished writer and that she so adeptly and candidly conveys to us the sense of her world and its values. She depicts women struggling for independence and fulfillment in a patriarchal society, but they are struggling within the structures and precepts of their religion, not against them.

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