Monday, May 16, 2011

Review: The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing by Darina Al-Joundi

The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing
Author:        Darina Al-Joundi with Mohamed Kacimi
Translator:  Marjolijn de Jager 
The Feminist Press at CUNY
Pub Date:

Pages:          144

Raised on Charles Baudelaire, A Clockwork Orange, and fine Bordeaux in 1970s Lebanon, Darina Al-Joundi was encouraged by her unconventional father to defy all taboos. As the bombs fell, she lived an adolescence of excess and transgression, defying death in nightclubs. The more oppressive the country became, the more drugs and anonymous sex she had, fueling the resentment by day of the same men who would spend the night with her. As the war dies down, she begins to incur the consequences of her lifestyle. On his deathbed, her father's last wish is for his favorite song, "Sinnerman" by Nina Simone, to be played at his funeral instead of the traditional suras of the Koran. When she does just that, the results are catastrophic.

In this dramatic true story, Darina Al-Joundi is defiantly passionate about living her life as a liberated woman, even if it means leaving everyone and everything behind.

Darina Al-Joundi was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1968. "The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing" is also the title of her critically acclaimed one-person show, which was performed in France, where she now lives as an actress, screenwriter, and filmmaker. She is planning a US tour of the show in 2011.

(Summary and cover via Goodreads)

Unsettling doesn't even begin to describe this book. For such a short book, it was a hard read. This book follows the life of Darina Al-Joundi. Born in Beirut in 1968, her life was one of constant chaos. In times of almost constant war, Darina grew up never knowing if she'd live to see the next day. Her family constantly moved around to avoid the danger around then, but often ended up back in Beirut. 

I can't say that I enjoyed this book per se, but it was a good book. Darina had no identity to speak of. Because of her parentage, she had no claim to citizenship anywhere. She was told to speak one language at home and one at school. With no stability due to the war, her life was one of chaos. Thinking she would die at any moment, she threw herself into drugs and sex with anyone she ran into. Honestly, I thought it was a wonder she survived to tell her story. 

This was certainly a sad tale. It was also cautionary to some extent. The horrors of extended war are detailed. More than anything though, I felt like Darina really missed out on security and stability while growing up. Without those things, she bounced from one thing to the next trying to find what could make her feel good about herself. This book was harsh, but I think she was brave to be able to tell about everything that happened. I am curious to find out if she has found some peace living her life on her terms now. I hope she has.  

Book won in online contest.

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