Friday, 22 June 2007

Mutilée by Khady

Mutilée hasn't been translated into English so here is a brief outline.

It's the true story of Khady Koita who was born and brought up in Senegal. At seven years old she suffered circumcision, along with quite a number of the girl children in her extended family. The pain is described fairly graphically. She goes on to describe her life as a child, how she was sent to school, unusually for a girl, but at 15 is married off to a cousin twenty years her senior and who lived in Paris.

The bulk of the book is taken up with this marriage which wasn't really forced but which she couldn't see any option to oppose. Within less than a year she had her first child although she was hardly more than a child herself. The marriage was not a happy one. She went on to have five children, four girls and three of them she allowed to be circumcised out of sheer passivity.

Ultimately her marriage degenerated still further, especially after her husband took on a second wife, as was the custom. In the end, after much hesitation, she did leave him and took her children with her, although her husband attempted to kidnap them.

Through working as an interpreter for Senegalese immigrants, she made contacts which led her to become more and more active in GAMS, a women’s group for the abolition of female genital mutilation and other harmful practices affecting the health of women and children. This is covered in only the last 20 pages.

I'm sorry to say I didn't especially enjoy the book although it has been widely discussed. Because my French is far from fluent, it surprises me that I can detect that it isn't terribly well written. Papillon's blog reads far better by quite a long way. Mutilée seems disjointed and in places contradictory.

Additionally, in spite of the title, it spends considerably more time describing her unhappy and violent marriage than about female genital mutilation. I can't help feeling the title was chosen for dramatic effect to attract attention to a currently fashionable subject than anything else. I daresay a great many book titles are chosen for the same reason, but you could hope to have more substance behind the title than was the case here.

Nevertheless, one or two passages do stay in my mind, this being one of them:

In a corner of my mind, I'm still sitting under the mango tree at my grandparents' house, there where I was happy and physically intact. Ready to become a teenager, then a woman, ready to love because I really wanted to..... I was forbidden.

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