Seen through the eyes of a strong-willed and perceptive young girl, Naphtalene beautifully captures the atmosphere of Baghdad in the 1940s and 1950s. Through her rich and lyrical descriptions, Alia Mamdouh vividly recreates a city of public steam baths, roadside, butchers and childhood games played in the same streets where political demonstrations against British colonialism are beginning to take place.
At the heart of the novel is nine-year-old Huda, a girl whose fiery, defiant nature belies Western stereotypes of Muslim femininityand also contrasts sharply with her own inherent powerlessness. Both childishly innocent and acutely perceptive, Huda observes and documents the complex web of relationships in her family. Her father, a bullying police officer who works as a prison guard, treats his two children with vacillating tenderness and brutality, and drives her desparately ill Syrian mother from the house after he takes a second wife. One aunt waits in vain for a man to marry her, while another engages in a sexual relationship with a woman, but is forced to hide it.
Huda must struggle to form her identity amdist this world of unfulfilled women, of yearnings, frustrations, and small tragedies. Her inspiration is her grandmother, a resevoir of strength, humor, and of traditional storytelling, who manages subversively to wield great power in her family and her community.
Through Mamdouh's strikingly inventive use of language, Huda's stream-of-consciousness narrative expands to take in the life not only of a young girl and her family, but of her street, her neighborhood, and her country.
About the Author
Alia Mamdouh was born in Baghdad in 1944 and has been a journalist and writer for over thirty years. She has published four novels, two collections of short stories, and numerous critical essays. Since going into exile in 1982, she has lived and worked in London, Cairo, and Beirut.
Peter Theroux is the author of The Strange Disappearance of Imam Moussa Sadr , Sandstorms , and Translating LA , and the translator of several Arab novels, including The House of Mathilde by Hassan Daoud and Dongola: A Novel of Nubia by Idris Ali.
Hélène Cixous is one of the most prominent cultural and political thinkers in the world. Her work has transformed both feminism and literary criticism. In Paris, she sits as chair at the Centre de Recherches en Etudes Feminines, which she founded.