Muslim Women + Sex = Publishing Bonanza

Several MG readers have written in to draw my attention to Alan Riding’s profile of Nedjma, the pseudonymous author of The Almond, an erotic novel set in Morocco, and which is coming out with Grove/Atlantic this month. (By the way, the book was also reviewed together with Marjane Satrapi’s Embroideries.) Clearly, the NY Times doesn’t want you to miss this book. It’s got Muslim women! And sex! And mysterious pseudonyms!

There are two components to this hoopla that I find by turns amusing and troubling. One is the attempt at titillation by juxtaposing the stereotype of the covered, submissive Muslim woman with promises of revelations about what happens behind the veil. This, I am used to, and no longer care. But the other is the claim that this novel is some sort of landmark. It is not.

And now it appears that the author herself cultivates this image:

She said that even though she never expected the book to be published, she wrote it in French because it seemed less shocking to write about sex in a language that is not her mother tongue. “In any event, if I’d written in Arabic, it would never have been published,” she said. “Nor will it. It’s a thousand years since Muslims have written openly about sex. If you find an Arab publisher, I’ll buy you a bottle of Champagne.”

Clearly, Nedjma hasn’t read any of the sexually explicit material in works by Ahdaf Soueif or Alifa Rifaat or Nawal Al-Saadawi (all of whom have been published or translated into Arabic, thankyouverymuch.) And since she appears to be familiar enough with Algerian literature to use the title of a novel by Kateb Yacine as a pseudonym, she should also be familiar with Algerian writer Assia Djebar, whose work has also dealt with sexuality very openly. And that’s just for women. I can think of plenty of men, as well, starting with Mohammed Choukri, Mohammed Mrabet, Tahar Ben Jelloun, and so on.

Despite my griping about the book’s presentation and reception, I am actually looking forward to reading it and seeing how it fares as a book of fiction (since that is what it is.) I managed to get a copy of it at BEA (one of the few I brought back with me) and look forward to checking it out for myself.