In these letters, written to Fawwaz Traboulsi, sent from Barcelona, Aix-en-Provence, Skopelos, Murcia, Amsterdam, Berlin, Rome, and Beirut in lieu of an essay on feminism for a special issue of his magazine Zawaya on “Arab Women,” Etel Adnan unfolds startling meditations on gender, place, culture, landscape, vision, eros, illness, mortality, and war. Of Cities and Women is a philosophical and poetic tour de force.
Praise for Of Cities & Women
Asked to contribute a study on feminism, Etel Adnan decides to adopt the free and adventurous approach of letters to investigate cities (such as Barcelona, Amsterdam, Berlin, Beirut…), and their relations to women’s lives as well as to the idea of woman.
— Feminist Bookstore News
Of Cities and Women… reads like an extended meditation on the experience of exile. From Barcelona to Skopelos, these letters trace the author’s travels and reflections as each city becomes a kind of hand mirror to the psyche, a locus of new understanding… Adnan reads the figures of landscape, nation, art, and street, as easily as words on a page. In Cities, she continually draws startling, yet graceful connections between these elements, showing her readers how to find the essence of a country in a Cezanne mountain, how to understand exile by contemplating the composition of a buffet. Adnan’s use of language reflects this poetic process of “decoding.” She arrives at deeply original insights on the nature of feminism, politics, and loss through concise description and observation. Adnan’s writing is lovely…
—Diana Abu-Jabr, Middle East Journal
Where Paris, When It’s Naked delves into the accumulated layers of the self, Of Cities & Women is more concerned with the nature of race itself, its definition and redefinition, through philosophical speculation, observations on the relations between artists and their ostensible subjects, between women and cities, between women and men.
— Ammiel Alcalay, The Nation
Barcelona, Aix-en-Provence, Skopelos, Murcia, Amsterdam, Berlin, Rome, Beirut. Etal Adnan’s Letters to Fawwaz, interlocutor, writer, and journal editor living himself in exile in Paris, were written in lieu of an essay on feminism promised to him for his magazine Zawaya. The lettered project, which begins in Barcelona in June 1990, at a feminist book fair, and concludes two years later in “post-war” Beirut in August 1992, is now, however, become a book of its own.
Of Cities and Women, at once correspondence and essay, summons for a reader of Etal Adnan’s previous work, such as the novel Sitt Marie Rose or the collection of poetry The Arab Apocalypse, the provocative combination of meditation, mediation—and immediacy—that has so distinguished her internationally acclaimed writing. That acclaim, even as it provides the site and the occasion for some of these letters—the Barcelona book fair, a seminar on Ibn ‘Arabi in Murcia, a poetry reading in Frankfurt followed by a public discussion of the Gulf War in Berlin—is relocated here in a deeply global sensitivity to the situations of women from country to country, across landscapes, seas, through city streets, and in their representations in art.
Written against the background of war at the turn of this century, this millennium—the Gulf War, the Lebanese civil war and the military occupations of that country, the author’s country of origin—these letters, Of Cities and Women, are in their turn now letters to cities and women—that we, that is, women and men alike, might eventually, before it is too late, “find the right geography for our revelations.”
— Barbara Harlow, University of Texas at Austin