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Women in the City of the Dead por Helen…
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Women in the City of the Dead (edição 1992)

por Helen Watson

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The City of the Dead is a vast cemetery close to the centre of Cairo which has become a permanent home for thousands of migrants from the countryside. For many of the women, though still living in poverty, migration has brought a taste of freedom, as the exclusively female gatherings which form the setting for this book clearly show. The author has spent long periods inside this environment, where autobiographical and fictional story-telling is a routine pastime. She transcribes the stories and introduces the tellers and their society.… (mais)
Membro:KatrinaZw
Título:Women in the City of the Dead
Autores:Helen Watson
Informação:Trenton, N.J. : Africa World Press, 1992.
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Women in the City of the Dead por Helen Watson

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Helen Watson, the author who is an anthropologist, submerged herself in the life of the city of poor immigrants that has grown up in a vast 400 year old cemetery in Cairo, the capital of Egypt.

More specifically, she attached herself to a small group of women who met at one or other of the tombs or shacks they lived in for an hour or two everyday for refreshments and storytelling. The book is written in paired chapters. The first chapter of each pair is a biography of one of the women and the second chapter is a story she has told. The women have come from far and wide in Egypt, not all from initally poor backgrounds, but all have wound up in poverty. All are illiterate and have no televisions, so their storytelling is a very well-developed art, an entertainment, but always containing a moral.

The book cleared up a mystery for me. I have always wondered how come Arab Muslim women could allow themselves to be secluded away from life by their men. But they don't see it as we do. They relish the luxury of a life where dealing with the outside world and paid work is the responsibility of the man. A life where they are kept, precious creatures, in as much luxury as their man can afford confers status on them.

Most of these women have to work, but will choose employment, such as tailoring, that can be done from within the home even if it is less well-paid than outside work. Life is short and brutal within this community, death comes early to the men and few children survive early childhood, so many women are widows some still with young children and they may have no choice but to work outside the home.

To be honest, I did skim over a couple of the stories of even the most fascinating women although I enjoyed the biographies, and the book would have been a three-star, until I read the last two absolutely luminous chapters. The last-but-one illuminates in a brilliant and unguessable story the feelings of a woman living a life of luxury reduced - or elevated eventually - to working for herself outside the home using the metaphor of a beautiful singing bird in a gilded cage.

The last chapter is one woman's story about the author herself. How this community of illiterate Egyptian women see this researcher fitting into their lives. It characterises her as a busy bee, as one who spends all her time observing and recording who will never understand their lives because she will not take the time to just enjoy life and to live it, even if life is in within an old tomb in a cemetery city. The story was told gently and with much humour to take the 'sting' out of it, such was their affection for the author.

Five stars. A wonderful book.
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  Petra.Xs | Apr 2, 2013 |
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The City of the Dead is a vast cemetery close to the centre of Cairo which has become a permanent home for thousands of migrants from the countryside. For many of the women, though still living in poverty, migration has brought a taste of freedom, as the exclusively female gatherings which form the setting for this book clearly show. The author has spent long periods inside this environment, where autobiographical and fictional story-telling is a routine pastime. She transcribes the stories and introduces the tellers and their society.

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