Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Language and Literature -- of Cities and Women (Letters to Fawwaz) by Etel Adnan / Paris When It's Naked by Etel Adnan

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Language and Literature -- of Cities and Women (Letters to Fawwaz) by Etel Adnan / Paris When It's Naked by Etel Adnan

Article excerpt

Of Cities and Women (Letters to Fawwaz), by Etel Adnan. Sausalito: Post-Apollo Press, 1993. 114 pages. $11 paper.

Paris When It's Naked, by Etel Adnan. Sausalito: Post-Apollo Press, 1993. 115 pages. $13.50 paper.

It is sometimes said that in order to be a "great writer," one must also be a "great human being." Both concepts, however, are elusive and difficult to define.

Yet, the impression one gets upon reading Etel Adnan's two volumes, Paris When It's Naked and Of Cities and Women, is of coming upon that rare example of a great soul. The pleasure of reading these works is that of encountering a true teacher or courageous witness to both internal and external worlds.

While depicting a lively, often provocative, range of experiences, the tone of these works remains serene and clear-sighted. Both volumes offer in their thoughtful analysis something like the solace of prayer.

Of Cities and Women is a collection of correspondence, loosely organized around the topic of "feminism," that reads like an extended meditation on the experience of exile. From Barcelona to Skopelos, these letters trace the author's travels and reflections as each city becomes a kind of hand mirror to the psyche, a locus of new understanding. Each place seems to bear its own innate character, its own style of women, its unique insight into the mysteries of existence.

Of Barcelona, Adnan says, "I found the women of this city free, which is to say that they appear to have control over their bodies and their movements" (Cities, p. 2). Of women in Marrakesh, she says, "Poor, they walk bent, hidden ... they seem embarrassed, as if they had to justify their own existence" (Cities, p. 3).

Adnan reads the figures of landscape, nation, art, and street as easily as words on a page. In Cities, she continually draws startling yet graceful connections between these elements, showing her readers how to find the essence of a country in a Cezanne mountain, how to understand exile by contemplating the composition of a buffet. Adnan's use of language reflects this poetic process of "decoding." She arrives at deeply original insights on the nature of feminism, politics, and loss through concise description and observation.

Adnan's writing is lovely. …

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