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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Who's Afraid
of Meryl Streep ?

Rashid al-Daif

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To purchase Who's Afraid of Meryl Streep ?

Title: Who's Afraid of Meryl Streep ?
Author: Rashid al-Daif
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 123 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Who's Afraid of Meryl Streep ? - US
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Who's Afraid of Meryl Streep ? - India
Qu'elle aille au diable, Meryl Streep ! - France
Al diablo con Meryl Streep - España
  • Arabic title: تصطفل ميريل ستريب
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Paula Haydar and Nadine Sinno

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Our Assessment:

B : probing take on deep-rooted and debilitating sexual attitudes

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 27/3/2015 Nabeelah Jaffer
World Lit. Today . 3-4/2015 Michelle Lancaster

  From the Reviews:
  • "Paula Haydar and Nadine Sinno, whose excellent translation captures al-Daifís predilection for references to popular culture. (...) Like his previous novel to appear in English, Learning English (2009), this new book examines Lebanonís love-hate relationship with the West." - Nabeelah Jaffer, Times Literary Supplement

  • "By the end of this book -- which isnít an ending, merely a cessation of writing -- I had no empathy left for Rashoud. His laments and paranoia are repetitive and tedious." - Michelle Lancaster, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Who's Afraid of Meryl Streep ? is narrated by Rashoud, a recently married man in his mid-thirties. He is pleased about having a wife, but marriage turns out not to be everything he had hoped for -- especially since his wife clings to sleeping at her parents' place, where the bed creaks so loudly that he doesn't dare try to have sex with her. His in-laws' place does offer something the newly-married couple lack: television -- cable, even --, but Rashoud sets out to rectify that, promising to bring this diversion into their new home.
       It isn't just being able to watch cable TV with her mother that keeps Rashoud's new wife away from the marital bed. The root problem is more fundamental, in that Rashoud's attitude and expectations regarding sex differ greatly from his wife's. As the novel progresses, Rashoud reveals more and more about their courtship and relationship, and his jealousy and frustration about his wife possibly having been intimate with other men proves to be a huge barrier to their own relationship developing in any sort of healthy way. Rashoud tries to rationalize her behavior, but his suspicions of exactly what she might have already experienced bore deep into him. He has specific notions of what is proper and what is not, and the thought that his wife was not a virgin is such a fundamental challenge to his manhood that he can not adequately deal with it.
       It doesn't help that, while Rashoud tries hard, his wife isn't very receptive to his romancing and attempts at seduction, rejecting his advances, no matter how they're made:

     "I love you." I said that about ten times a day. I said it so many times she once told me, "Lucky you ! How easy it must be for you to say that !"
       He also leaves notes for her that she will come across during the course of her day while he's away, professing his love, but, as with most of Rashoud's efforts, she seems unmoved.
       While Rashoud tries to shape their marriage to his very specific expectations, her unwillingness to play along can seem more understandable, given some of those expectations -- and especially his rigid, almost neurotic attitudes about sex. Rashoud describes several of their intimate encounters, and they are deeply disturbing. A healthy sexual relationship this is not.
       His wife getting pregnant doesn't help, and then Rashoud's clumsy attempt to seduce another woman in their apartment completely ruins things. Rashoud finds it hard to see himself in the wrong, trying to convince himself matters can still be worked out, but it's clear his world has collapsed around him.
       Television, as escape and outlet, does not prove helpful, either. He recognizes the dangers it holds, even as he too is drawn in:
I wished I could cover up that machine there in front of me -- the TV that is -- with something thick, like steel maybe, something that could stop all that sleazy stuff inside it from creeping into my living room. Oh God ! This was the atomic bomb people used to talk about.
       Seeing Kramer vs. Kramer he is shocked by Meryl Streep's show of independence, an erosion of the values he tries to cling to. His wife's TV-fascination now has a whole other dimension, as he sees how: "television debilitated a person with all its dangerous and bewitching magic". But of course it's not TV that's to blame, it's Rashoud's -- and the society he lives in -- hopelessly confused attitudes towards and expectations of especially female sexuality that are so damaging.
       Who's Afraid of Meryl Streep ? is an uncomfortable novel, its narrator's perspective that of a frustrated male figure who can not see his way beyond the rigid societal expectations regarding sex. The novel is disturbing in its reflection of actual society, suggesting some of the costs -- especially in more contemporary times, where information flows much more freely, whether, as here, via television, or now also on the Internet. (The novel was first published in 2001; one can only imagine what would become of Rashoud if he had had easy access to Internet pornography.)
       Harsh and limited -- while Rashoud shows some empathy for his wife, she remains a distant figure; just like Rashoud, the reader never really comes to understand her or who she is -- Who's Afraid of Meryl Streep ? is an uncomfortable read. The ways in which it pricks society are presumably more effective in the environment Rashoud is describing; readers from more liberal societies may find the attitudes and actions frustratingly disturbing.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 January 2015

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Who's Afraid of Meryl Streep ?: Reviews: Rachid al-Daif: Other books by Rashid al-Daif under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Lebanese author Rachid al-Daif (رشيد الضعيف) was born in 1945.

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