- “But Have Some Art with You”: An Interview with Nawal El Saadawi
We’d like to start with Memoirs of a Woman Doctor. Much of the novel is drawn from your own experience and observations as a medical student.
Of course. Yes. First of all, all writing includes some part of the self. The relationship of the self and the other exists in writing, whether autobiographical or novel. There is a self and an other. Of course, I was inspired by my life. I was inspired by the lives of many women doctors around me. So it’s a mixture. I cannot write except when the self and the other become one—you know?
What was the response to the novel?
It was very positive generally. Very, very positive. People like it, whether young people, young women, even critics—male critics—they were not shocked by it. Of course, some parts were cut.
The parts in which I elaborated on the sexual life of the doctor herself, the personal life, her relation with men. All this. They left only some very, very minute parts. And also the political, the political element in it. So in a way, they cut pieces that to my mind were very important. But even what was left was quite enough, was quite good—for the time being.
Between Memoirs of a Woman Doctor, which was published in English in 1989, and Woman at Point Zero, which appeared in London in 1982, there’s a gap in your writing.
Well, Woman at Point Zero I wrote during the ‘70s in Arabic. It came in English in ‘82. So, almost ten years’ difference between the Arabic and the English. During the ‘80s I wrote Memoirs from the Women’s Prison. This is one of my most important books. It came out in Arabic in ‘83. About my experience in prison.
Is that where you met Firdaus, the main character in Woman at Point Zero? [End Page 60]
Yes. Also, I wrote The Fall of the Imam. Then The Innocence of the Devil—was written in Arabic, it will come out in English in January 1995.
So there really was no gap in your writing?
I never stopped writing. I never stopped. I started writing when I was twelve years of age. And I was writing all the time. But nothing was translated until thirty years after I started writing, when The Hidden Face of Eve was translated in 1980.
Are you still practicing medicine?
I practiced medicine up ‘til now. I practice psychiatry. I shifted from different specialties. I started as a village doctor—community doctor, public health preventive medicine. Then, chest physician—chest surgeon. Yes, I wanted to be a chest surgeon. And then I started psychiatry, mental health. And still, when I am in Egypt, I am phoned because I am listed in the medical directory under “Mental Health and Psychiatry.” And of course, I see very few people, because I give much more time to writing. So I cannot say that I really stopped medicine, but I practice medicine—or psychiatry—in a very different way. In an artistic way!
Tell us about that.
First of all, I hated the medical profession. Medical education in Egypt was taken from the British, French, colonial educational system. And it’s very, very lacking—there is no sexology. I never read the word clitoris in any medical book when I was educated. I had to educate myself about female circumcision, about the clitoris, about sexology. We studied gynecology only. Pregnancy, maternal care, etc. The medical profession is also very commercial. Health is not given to the poor. You know, if you have money, you have medical care; if you do not, then you are in trouble. I was not ready at all to build my economic security on the diseases of people, on suffering, especially of women and children. So, in a way, I rebelled against it. And, because I was writing, I was more or less pushing myself...