Clash of Cultures in the Works of Fadia Faqir and Ahdaf Soueif
Reading works of literature by different authors of Arab origins can broaden readers’ understanding about the culture they represent, especially when the stories occur within the context of real historical circumstances. Two such insightful works are My Name is Salma by Fadia Faqir and Sandpiper which is a collection of stories by Ahdaf Soueif.
Both writers clearly depicted the clash of cultures in their writings. In the case of Sandpiper, Ahdaf Soueif illustrated through vivid characterization how disparate racial origins can drive a deep wedge between people, particularly couples who figure in a romantic relationship. My Name is Salma by Fadia Faqir, on the other hand, mirrors the travails and tribulations experienced in a foreign land of the main character Salma. In the novel, Salma gets pregnant following a passionate tryst with a young man from the small village where she was born. Several events ensue, including a failed abortion, and she eventually assumes the incognito name Sally Asher in an attempt to escape the wrath of her dishonored kin, notably her brother, and ends up in England. Beforehand, she is placed in protective custody in prison, and it is in the dirty prison floor that she gives birth. Salma spends a great deal of time living a new life in England, but continually longs for the day when she can go back to her homeland, driven by a compulsion to see her daughter. In doing so, she meets her tragic end. Faqir employs a flowing and engaging storytelling style that interlinks the Arab mindset and cultural beliefs with the western experiences of the main character. The reader senses that much of the background material used in My Name is Salma reflects the author’s own life story. Hence, she comes across as quite credible, especially in depicting the struggles of a woman who seeks political asylum in a foreign land and tries to meld into the mainstream society of that country. Records show that Faqir grew up in Amman located in Jordan, one of the Arab countries in Southwest Asia, and with her English husband, settled in northern England (Tarbush, par. 11). It can be gleaned that she was talking from experience when she described the adventures of her main character – from using modern undergarments to taking in the sights of England — in My Name is Salma. More importantly, Faqir successfully lures readers to immerse themselves in a story that brings to the forefront how women can be resolute human beings in the face of adversity, especially as a result of problems – or the struggle for survival – that are an offshoot of their racial/cultural origins. Being a Jordanian certainly helped her describe her Arab character and the circumstances she found herself in.
As authors who brilliantly depict the Arab woman’s experience, Fadia Faqir and Ahdaf Soueif both undertook research to supplement their own personal experiences in their respective countries, thereby heightening the authenticity of their stories.“Faqir has carried out research into honor killings in Jordan, so has an inside knowledge of the subject.” (Tarbush, par. 15). Cairo-born Ahdaf Soueif lets her intellectual Muslim family background reflect in her writings. Through her collection of stories in Sandpiper, Soueif effectively “uses time and space, fiction and reality in the context of history and politics… (and) is helped here by well-founded information and research which challenge the oversimplified, stereotyped portrayal of Egyptian women in English literature” (Shanneik, par. 12). Soueif and Faqir presented realistic views of their cultures while also writing a balanced view about other cultures. Tackling a multicultural standpoint with a careful approach not to deride their own race while also illuminating real societal conditions requires special talent and keen observation of events. Faqir and Soueif both have their strengths as female writers writing about identifiable characters amidst the rich historical background of the countries they hail from and have taken up residence in. “Soueif’s creative edge is her hybrid vision — she transposes an Egyptian spirit into that which is non-Egyptian” (Wassef, par. 11). Soueif, at some point in her career, had shared, “I would never have chosen to live abroad. It just happened. And one day I’ll go home” (Wassef, par. 13). In this aspect, a parallelism with Fadia Faqir may be drawn. Being a defender of women’s rights, one can surmise how Faqir must have entertained thoughts of going back to her homeland. It can be inferred that Faqir echoed her longings and part of her own personality through her main character Salma/Sally Asher. She also reflected own strength and ability to overcome despair in her character Salma, who goes through the challenging stages of finding her identity while assimilating a new culture and surviving in a foreign land. Faqir’s activist leanings are also clearly illustrated in My Name is Salma. Archaic as it may seem, honor killing or using bloodshed to recompense for a dishonored or tarnished honor of a tribe is an oppression that reportedly still occurs in some societies. It can be said then that both authors’ personal lives and Arab background played a vital role in their writings.
Both Faqir and Soueif are reliable and true voices of the Arab world, particularly in depicting the plight of women shackled by the socio-cultural realities, or by oppressive male dominance. This is clearly shown in the honor killing of the child of Salma and the main character herself in My Name is Salma. It is also shown in one of the featured stories in Sandpiper, “Melody” which transports readers to a Gulf Arab country where they witness family issues dealt with by middle-class couples of different racial origins. There is a Canadian woman yearning to have kids, but her husband blocked it with a vasectomy. Discerning readers will note “the subtlety with which Soueif explores the blindness of the white Canadian to her own experience of sexist oppression” (Massad) . Both Faqir and Soueif also employed powerful literary devices, like imagery, figures of speech and flashbacks to make their narrative prose not just readable but riveting masterpieces.
Massad, Joseph. “The Politics of Desire in the Writings of Ahdaf Soueif.” Journal of Palestine Studies 28 (1999). 30 May 2009 <http://www.ucd.ie/english/articles/balzano7.htm>.
Shanneik, Yafa. “Developing a Euro-Arab Literature.” 10 May 2004. 30 May 2009
Tarbush, Susannah. “Fadiq Faqir’s Novel `My Name is Salma’.” 8 May 2007. 30 May 2009 <http://thetanjara.blogspot.com/2007/05/fadiq-faqirs-novel-my-name-is-salma.html>.
Wassef, Hind. “The unblushing bourgeoise.” 30 April 1998. 30 May 2009 <http://www.cairotimes.com/content/culture/suef.html>.