MY FATHER AND I by Camelia Sadat


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The author is the youngest daughter of Anwar Sadat's first marriage. Her memoirs, ostensibly a portrait of her father, focus instead upon her own story: a strong-willed woman in a patriarchal society, struggling for a measure of autonomy while retaining her traditional Muslim faith. She writes in the carefully measured and precise English of a nonnative, creating a voice sometimes stilted but more often charming. An occasional disastrous foray into poetic phraseology and hollow ironies is forgotten amidst the starkly and disarmingly honest prose. Shedding little light on Sadat's public life and character, the book reveals only a detached, calculating father, a man obsessed by patriotism and politics, adamant in protecting his public image. In unravelling their complex relationship, she becomes too caught up in family spats--sibling rivalries, the debate over a child's name, a snubbed invitation--to make any satisfying speculations on the parallels between Sadat's private and public selves. The author was married at 12 to a man 17 years her senior. He beat her, starved her, and confined her to their apartment. Her new mother-in-law once doused a pet cat in gasoline and set it on fire. In seeking a divorce, Camelia was rebuffed by her cruelly unsympathetic father; upon hearing her complaints of being so mistreated, he still ordered her to return to her house and offered money to her husband to make up for her insult. After describing the aging statesman's later kindness, and his tragic death, all is forgiven. She lavishes her father with loving adulation, but the dichotomized image that persists is of a great man, but a cruel father. The statesman who was finally a martyr to his country is portrayed as a man who had sacrificed his family long before. As biography, the book is prejudiced, often superficial. As autobiography, it is a dramatic story--if clouded by her still deep-rooted fears and dependence upon patriarchy--of a modern Muslim woman's struggle against an omnipresent cultural undertow.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Macmillan