This is the third novel by Nawal El Saadawi that I’ve read and it is no less intriguing. “The Fall of the Imam” depicts a nightmarish, fictional, Muslim society, ruled by a corrupt and spiteful Imam who holds grudges against all those around him. In this society there are two political parties, Hizb Allah (The Party of God) and Hizb Al-Shatain (The Party of Satan - the “official” opposition party, funded by the Imam himself to give the illusion of “democracy”). He is surrounded by a bodyguard, who serves as his double, and a host of other characters who swear undying loyalty to him. He is shrewd, vindictive, having grown up poor and uneducated, he manages to become “God’s representative on earth” and comes to believe that he is God.
There is Bint Allah (Daughter of God), an illegitimate child, having grown up in an orphanage, brutalized by those who were supposed to protect her. She is the daughter of a woman accused of adultery (who was also stoned to death - at the very opening of the novel) and just may be the daughter of the Imam himself. Bint Allah is also accused of adultery and is sentenced to death by stoning.
The Imam, meanwhile, celebrating the nations annual Victory Holiday, is assassinated.
These two stories are told repeatedly through the eyes of the various characters, each adding a little more detail to the story and revealing the corrupt nature of a religious society and its impact on women in that society. It is told via a very experimental narrative, sometimes switching perspectives mid-paragraph, along with a heavy dose of symbolism, cloaked in “magical realism”.
It is a difficult read, and one has to pay attention to the switching narratives and perspective but the story is essentially short and to the point, despite the added details and the repeated tellings over and over throughout the course of the novel. A little knowledge of the history of the Middle East and Islam would help being that the symbolism is steeped in Quranic imagery and verse. All in all, it’s a very deep and existential look into the lives of women in Muslim society and the rampant hypocrisy of those who claim to be virtuous. Definitely recommended.