Book Review: Dalia by Sara Badawieh

‘This filthy neighbourhood we live in is like a prison cell where men act as its iron bars, preventing women from escaping. Come to think of it, the women here seem fine; it’s only me who wants out.
And getting out comes with a price.’ ~ Dalia, Sara Badawieh

Sara Badawieh’s second book, Dalia, is a hopeful tribute to the value of education, the comfort of books, and the strength of womanhood. Born in a ramshackle neighbourhood in Amman, Dalia’s path to education is a constant struggle. The predominantly patriarchal society reinforces the customs that keep women in their place, under lock and key, safely stored within domesticity. Whenever Dalia expresses any of her progressive ideas or wishes to attend further education, she is met with discouraging scoffs.

Mental Health and Domestic Violence

Dalia’s father, who is struggling with his own trauma as well as the burden of untreated mental illness, is a violent man who doesn’t refrain from corporeal punishment. A number of scenes, including the one where Dalia’s face gets cut, bear witness to the horrors of domestic violence. Furthermore, Badawieh raises the issue of mental illness left untreated due to the predominant taboo of such topics in underdeveloped areas.

Arranged/Child Marriage

Under the influence of his family, Dalia’s father marries her teenage sisters to very unsuitable men. This topic requires further development, since the two sisters never comment on their married lives except to bemoan the ill treatment on the part of their in-laws. The two girls, Reem and Faten, cheerful and brimming with life at the beginning of the book, seem to fall through the cracks and vanish by the end of the book. Their stories require a book of their own.

Education Makes the World Go Round

After an incident at the bookshop where Dalia secretly works after school, she gets discovered by her father and her hunky cousin Jaafar and this triggers an avalanche of events that completely destroy Dalia’s world and she is forced to build herself a new one. Whilst trying to collect the shattered fragments of her life, Dalia shows us the transformative power of education and reading. Eventually, her community, her family, even her father and the handsome yet quite uncouth Jaafar, go through a transformation thanks to the power of reading and education.

The novel ends on a hopeful and comforting note celebrating love, family, and women’s empowerment. Badawieh provides a loud commentary on the importance of education, and especially, the importance of education for women and girls. She shows the path towards emancipation and progress, generated through change in educational systems and the approach to lifelong learning in general.

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