Review: Monica Hejaiej’s “Behind Closed Doors: Women’s Oral Narratives in Tunis”

by writereaderly

monia hejaeiej behind closed doorsI wouldn’t say I enjoyed this book but I found parts of it most interesting. Hejaiej, Tunis born and bred, returns to her home city as a Western-trained ethnologist to study the Beldi women’s oral storytelling tradition and its cultural role. (The Beldi are the old-world rich, educated upperclass of the city of Tunis, proud of their culture and refinement.) Hejaiej got access to three mistress storytellers, recorded their performed stories – that’s the bit that readers really miss out on – then conducted an ethnographic analysis of the content, meaning, linguistics, audience, etc. The ~100pp analysis which introduces the book I found fascinating, but the stories (like most written folktales divorced from their true, oral ambiance) I found dull and repetitive – not to mention horrifying, what with all those long-suffering women doing the right thing and letting their husbands kill their children to test the women’s fortitude. Etc. Culturally interesting and terrible, probably particularly useful for researchers.

Where it came from: Market book stall
Time and manner of reading:
A few days of armchair, waiting, bed and train reads
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that: Ana Castillo’s theory that women’s repression in Mexican culture can be traced to Muslim Arabic traditions in the Spanish colonisers’ culture
Who I’d recommend it to:
Culturally curious
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass