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Evelyne Accad: L’Excisée (The Excised)

This novel contains several elements. Firstly, it is the story of an Arab Christian woman who elopes with a Muslim man, something which, of course, is unheard of in that culture, where the woman is expected to do exactly as her parents and then her husband tell her and not to break away from tradition. We follow her and her lover as they escape the confines of their environment and find the freedom they are seeking – but not without considerable difficulty. But this work is about the oppression Arab women suffer today. At the start we see the younger Arab generation, where the girls would rather listen to Elvis Presley than Omm Kalthoum and where they would like to wear make-up, which unmarried women are not allowed to do. All of this takes place against a background of war, particularly the oppression of the Palestinians, and a strong criticism of the USA, both for their support of Israel and for their cultural imperialism.

But, as the title implies, this novel is about another aspect of feminism, namely female circumcision. Accad writes a bitter and heart-wrenching account of what it means to young women. She spares nothing – the pain, the blood, the humiliation, the teasing. She describes the event, the fear girls undergo when they know it is coming, the way the girl is held down, cut and suffers for days afterwards, how the blood is carried away. And, of course, she discusses the politics of it – how the men (and older women) wish to control the feelings of the young women, how no man will marry a woman who has a clitoris. This is a powerful feminist novel which deserves to be better known.

Publishing history

First published in 1982 by L’Harmattan
First English translation by Three Continents Press in 1989
Translated by David K. Bruner