Badriah Albeshr′s ‘Hend and the Soldiers’: A Saudi Novella About How Oppression Works, And How To Fight It

The stories begin when the family servant shares tales of Hend′s mother and her own, Nweyyir, a former slave who was kidnapped and sold to Hend′s grandfather. It′s a tune she brings home from school, hoping to make a connection with her mother, who seems to care only for Hend′s brothers. Hend remembers: ″I hoped my mother would throw her arms around me after she had heard the song; I even thought of putting the baby down so that she could hug me properly, with body and soul. Albeshr′s brief, evocative novella depicts a woman – Hend – surrounded by ″soldiers″. For Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth), we run the opening of a review by ArabLit’s chief editor that appears on Qantara:
Badriah Albeshr′s Hend and the Soldiers   created a small uproar in Saudi Arabia when it was first published in Arabic in 2006. Instead, she is raped and murdered. In ″The Girl with the White Socks″, the hero is not rescued by a prince, nor does she live happily ever after. King Faisal officially abolished slavery in the 1960s, but, in the novella, hierarchies hardly shift. Women as the enemies of women
A poignant scene unfolds early in Hend′s life, when she tries to sing her mother a romantic song. Keep reading on Qantara. ′Get out of my way before I whack you on the head with this spoon!′″
Throughout the novella, women struggle to connect with each other. The servant Ammousha wants Hend to sympathise with her mother, so Ammousha describes how Hend′s mother was married off as a child, raped by Hend′s father and beaten when she ran away. The first story Hend loved as a child was the fairytale ″Cinderella″, which she discovered through school. Yet these two are only minor foot soldiers in the book′s social-control army, which is made up of relatives, co-workers, men from the Committee for the Prevention of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue and even passersby. Both enforce strict gender roles, although Hend is more attracted to the romantic tales, even when she mocks them. These figures menace her from all sides as she attempts to battle her way to independence and agency. Ammousha is the family′s invisible memory – she sees and remembers all while perpetually covered, so that even the family′s children don′t know her face. To help her launch a new life, Hend turns to family stories, remembered folktales, romances and dreams. Hend′s harried mother has no time for songs. Much of Saudi women′s literature at the time was shrugged off as chick lit. Yet, shuttling between chatty romance, political commentary and a stylised literary work, Hend and the Soldiers   struck a nerve. University of Texas Press recently released the first full-length translation of work by prominent Saudi writer Badriah Albeshr into English, her 2006 novella   Hend and the Soldiers, trans. Advertisements

Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditGoogleTumblrPinterestPocketLike this:Like Loading…‹ An Excerpt from Nadia Al-Kowkabani’s ‘Ali Muhsin Souk’Categories: #WITMonth, Saudi Hend is raised on both sorts of stories – the written fairytale and the oral folk legend. Sanna Dhahir. Instead she took the big spoon out of the pot and brought it to my face. Driven by stories
The book begins and ends when Hend, a divorced mother in Riyadh, must choose her own path. Yet the girl is a hero because she scribbles the names of her attackers and hides the paper in her sock, so that they might be punished and her honour protected. The 128-page novella, ably translated by Sanna Dhahir, unspools in a language that veers between straightforward and lyric, as the grim reality of Hend′s war is punctuated by descriptions of coffee-making, gossip and stories. This stands in sharp contrast to a story she heard at home, ″The Girl with the White Socks″. Yet Hend continues to see her mother as a controlling tyrant. The novella shuttles between past and present, reality and romance. Two of these soldiers are Saudi military men: Hend′s father was a sergeant and her husband Mansur is a lieutenant. Nweyyir stays with the family, without pay and her daughter Ammousha later serves Hend.