Elevate Difference

The Madwoman of Bethlehem

Before I started to read The Madwoman of Bethlehem, a story about a woman’s struggle against her patriarchal culture, I wondered whether it would be depressing. It wasn’t. From the beginning, when Rosine Nimeh-Mailloux sets up the present, where Amal is incarcerated in an asylum for women, the writing captivated me.

Yes, the main character, Amal, is born into tough Palestinian life as a female, subjected to her mean grandmother and later, drunken husband, but I never once feel sorry for her. She gives off the energy of a feisty spirit and does not give up. It doesn’t matter how terrible the situation is; we all have the choice to fight or give up.

As Amal’s history is slowly revealed, the author also provides background of the other characters, so that the reader gains understanding of the complex context they exist in. It isn’t just Amal who is expected to obey her husband, but all women, according to Allah. By treating Amal as a servant, she will learn proper behavior—or so her family believes.

Amal refuses to accept the ancient view that women belong to men to do with as they please, she argues that her family betrays her by trading her off to get her sister a nice deal. Her view falls on deaf ears, but she does find an ally to turn to during her journey to acceptance.

So many girls and women in many cultures from around the world have been betrayed by their families under the guise of the old “it’s for your own good” philosophy. This novel is inspiring despite this typical letdown. I have spent years resenting my own family’s strict patriarchal ways, but after reading Nimeh-Mailloux’s novel, I know that I have to accept that it is simply their belief system, not mine.

Amal the character may be fictional, but she is based on the lives of women in the author’s family. She is also the voice of oppressed women in today’s world. She is me and you when we learn to stand up to abuse against women and children.

Whether you’re looking for a bit of inspiration or simply a good page-turner, you’ll find it in The Madwoman of Bethlehem. I didn’t want to put the book down. It is an emotional trip, from tears to laughter and back again.

Written by: Nicolette Westfall, November 20th 2009

Great review! Sounds like a very worthwhile read.