Thoughts on The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing by Darina Al-Joundi
The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing is an amazing memoir that I read in one sitting. The copy I have was written by Darina Al-Joundi with the help of Mohamed Kacimi and translated from french by Marjolijn de Jager. The book describes the life of an independent woman in war torn Beirut, Lebanon. She is raised by a secular freedom loving father who brings her up to live life as a “liberated woman.” Al-Joundi does just this while also going through the difficulties of living through war and the constant changes that occurred in Lebanon during the 1970s and 1980s. It is a tragically comical coming of age story.
Al-Joundi tells a brilliant story of her life and of her father. It is filled with clever quips, enlightening statements, and brilliant imagery. Much of the discussion follows war and the simple state of growing up as a young woman. Her father is presented as loving and trustworthy and his beliefs though often against the grain of society are endearing to Al-Joundi. He plays a large role in raising this rebellious woman. A hilarious part with her father is when she is shopping for bras and finds herself overwhelmed with the bra in the middle of night and throws it out the window. This is her father’s reaction:
“Good night, daughter. I don’t know if they’ll ever liberate Jerusalem but at least your breasts have been liberated for good.”
Al-Joundi’s youth is marred with war and though it has it’s happy moments it is often filled with scenes of death and destruction. One of the most poignant scenes in the book mixes the horrendous images of war with tranquil visions of the happiness of youth.
“A few birds were singing; in the distance I heard the barking of dogs that now ran around in packs, human thighbones between their teeth. I followed my sisters and at the end of an alley we saw a bombed-out old house with a big garden and a large pond of stagnant water. All three of us jumped in, to drink, to wash. We were naked and green, splashing about among the frogs, our hair covered with algae, but happy as larks beneath the sky of Beirut. It was the most wonderful bath of my life.”
Scenes of death and war are interspersed throughout this book. One moment you will find yourself laughing at a simple scene and the next there will be a scene of such dread. Al-Joundi describes the war and the effects it can have on society with such vivid imagery.
“People recognized their loved ones by their clothes only, they were too disfigured. I held women up as they identified the dead, and I wept and vomited. It went beyond rage, grief, and even madness. I felt as if my own throat had been cut. What frightened me most in Sabra weren’t the dead but what could be read on the faces of the living. I had just turned fourteen.”
The above quote makes you shudder at the devastating effects of war, but at other times the visuals described are almost beautiful and in a way peaceful in describing the chaos around.
“I saw the warships clogging up the harbor, bombing us; it seemed as if fire was belching from the with every shot. I saw the F-16s launch flares over the coastal road at night, resembling huge orange chandeliers, quivering for a moment before they disappeared in a cascade of stars. I would sing Fairouz to them, ‘I’m staying with you, alone in the night.’”
The remarkable descriptions and language used within the book make it an endearing tale and one that reaches deep into your being and stays with you. The imagery is unforgettable and the story is one that is different. It goes beyond war and discusses the issues a wild and reckless female encounters in life. The part that makes it so fascinating is that she is attempting to live an independent life in a place where it is not common for a woman to be independent.
“He wanted to save me, keep me from going under, but I snapped at him, ‘Leave me alone, I’m a free woman.’ He didn’t take me seriously, ‘You poor thing, only men are free.’”
This book is a coming of age tale that has you laughing out loud and also shocks you to the core. It is much more than just a story of a woman coming to age: It is a tale of a woman living in a war torn country, a tale of a woman’s love for her father, a tale of a woman’s desire to be free in a country that is anything but, and it is a tale that shouldn’t be ignored.
Overall, I couldn’t put this book down once I picked it up. It is not only a worthwhile read, but one I think most people would enjoy thoroughly. Though I must warn that there are some scenes describing not only war, but sex and it can be rather graphic. It is a poignant, beautiful, and funny memoir that is by far worth the time it takes to read.