Title: The Tent
Author: Miral al-Tahawy
Translator: Anthony Calderbank
Publication Year: 1998 (originally published in Arabic in 1996)
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Source: Borrowed from Amy while in Egypt
From the cover:
The Tent is a beautifully written, powerful, and disturbing novel, featuring a host of women characters whose lives are subject to the will of a single, often absent, patriarch and his brutal, foul-mouthed mother. Told through the eyes of a young girl, the lives of the Bedouin and peasant women unfold, revealing the tragedy of the sonless mother and the intolerable heaviness of existence.
Set against trackless deserts and star-filled night skies, the story tells of the young girl’s relationship with her distant father and a foreign woman who is well-meaning but ultimately motivated by self-interest. It provides an intimate glimpse inside the women’s quarters, and chronicles their pastimes and preoccupations, their stories and their songs.
This book was an interesting, and at times frustrating, read.
The Tent tells the story of a family of women through the eyes of the youngest daughter in the household. The most interesting parts, for me, were those that talked about the cultural and familial obligations and relationships between the characters. It was interesting in particular to see how some of the (older) Bedouin women treated the younger women, particularly considering that they would have been in the same position just years earlier.
What the description doesn’t tell you is that the story also follows the narrator’s descent into mental illness. This is what was hard for me; at times, I actually found it extremely difficult to figure out what was going on in the book or what (and who!) she was talking about at all. It just made some parts of the book, particularly nearer the end, hard to understand. I pushed through to the end and I’m glad that I did, because it helped me to understand some of the bits that had originally confused me.
But aside from those difficulties, it was still interesting. I read The Tent in a very short period of time, and so it’s not a big investment even if you decide halfway through that you don’t like the style.