Scottish Families Book Group Book Review: ‘Woman at Point Zero’ by Nawal El Saadawi

By Lena McMillan, Family Support Development Officer – Forth Valley

March’s book choice for our group was ‘Woman at Point Zero’ by Nawal El Saadawi. 

This book, written in the late 1970s, tells the heartbreaking story of Firdaus, whose impoverished, difficult life has led her to a death sentence in a Cairo prison. Ahead of her execution, she tells her story, from her earliest memories and along the way, we meet the people who let her down, who oppressed her, who determined her choices, to bring her to where we meet her, in her cell. 

While ‘Woman at Point Zero’ is a work of fiction, it is based on the life of a female prisoner the author met when researching women experiencing neurosis.  

“…I put her down in ink on paper and gave her life after she died.”  

Opinion within our group was divided on this reading. The group rated it 4.8 out of 10, with one reader giving it only 1/10, one saying it was 0/10 for them and others scoring it at 8/10. 

People agreed it was an easy read, in the sense that it is a short book – only 142 pages long – with accessible language. In contrast to this, however, we discussed how difficult the subject matter was, with some of the group saying they had struggled with how depressing they found it and persevered in the hope that there would be something more positive towards the end.  

We discussed the power of the novel; in the light it shines on Egypt’s patriarchal society at that time; members of the group commented that its portrayal of the treatment of women could be located anywhere in the world and still holds relevance, unfortunately, today.  

We spoke of themes of trust and respect and touched on religious hypocrisy. 

We discussed the impact of living in poverty and the contrast in the lives of Firdaus and the author, herself a native of Egypt and spent time considering the title and what it meant for Firdaus to be ‘at point zero’ – is her refusal of the opportunity to appeal her sentence the ultimate power she can yield, her death her release from a life of pain and abuse, or the complete wearing down of a woman who no longer sees a point in staying alive. 

Some comments from our group: 

‘I was looking forward to reading it but felt deflated by it.’ 

‘… I have to say I didn’t like it at all… I persevered with it hoping for something good to happen.’ 

 ‘I’d have liked to learn more about Egyptian culture at that time… There wasn’t enough context.’ 

‘I liked it for lots of reasons. It’s a shorter read so I didn’t have the pressure to read lots and it’s a light read in terms of language. It’s depressing but that’s the reality/her truth… the beginning didn’t get me at first and at the end, I thought, is that it?’ 

‘…I liked the feminine themes… there were some really beautifully written bits… It surprised me how I related to her, though our lifestyles are so different…’ 

How to join the book group:

The Scottish Families Book Group is for anyone who is currently being supported by one of our services in Scotland.

For more information or to join us, please contact

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