Sitt Marie Rose (الست ماري روز) by Etel Adnan

On Monday, June 7th we discussed Sitt Marie Rose (الست ماري روز) by Etel Adnan.

Sitt Marie Rose is set before and during the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War. It was published first in French (1977) and translated into Arabic immediately after. It is based on the life of Marie Rose Boulos who was executed by a Christian militia during the conflict. The novel itself acts as a critique of various aspects of Lebanese culture, including critiques of xenophobia as well as the role of women. Sitt Marie Rose won the Amitié Franco-Arab Prize (an award given by the Association de Solidarité Franco-Arabe) in 1977.

Etel Adnan recently spoke at the Beirut Art Center on May 5th

About Etel Adnan:

Etel Adnan (b. 24 February 1925 in Beirut) is a Lebanese-American poet, essayist, and visual artist. In 2003 MELUS, the journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, called Adnan “arguably the most celebrated and accomplished Arab American author writing today.”

MELUS calls Adnan’s life “a study in displacement and alienation.” Daughter of a Christian Greek mother and a Muslim Syrian father, she grew up speaking Greek and Turkish in a primarily Arabic-speaking society. Yet she was educated at French convent schools, and French became the language in which her early work was first written. She has also studied English from her youth, and most of her later work has been first written in this language.  Caught between languages, in her youth Adnan first found her voice through painting rather than writing. In 1996 she recalled, “Abstract art was the equivalent of poetic expression; I didn’t need to use words, but colors and lines. I didn’t need to belong to a language-oriented culture but to an open form of expression.”

At twenty-four Adnan traveled to Paris where she received a degree in philosophy from the Sorbonne. She then traveled to America where she continued graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley and at Harvard University. She taught philosophy of art at the Dominican University of California in San Rafael for many years, and has lectured at universities throughout the United States. She divides her time between California, France, and Lebanon.

She has said, “As for any serious writer, the audience of an Arab–American cannot be confined to his or her fellow Arabs. Books have a life of their own and no one can determine their fate. The only thing we can strive for consciously is to be aware of the existence of a growing body of Arab–American literature, try to know it and make it known.”

About Sitt Marie Rose

The novel begins before the civil war with an unnamed female narrator describing her friend Mounir’s desire to make a movie based on Syrian immigrants who come to work in Lebanon and depicts prewar Beirut. After this brief section, the novel turns its attention solely to the death of Sitt Marie Rose as perceived by seven different characters. Adnan uses the contrasts of the Western and Eastern influences on Beirut to illustrate the major themes of the novel ,which include changing gender roles, individualism / unity / alienation, social hierarchies, and of course the Lebanese Civil War.. The novel was inspired by the true story of a woman killed in the Lebanese Civil War by a childhood friend who had become a member of the right-wing Christian Kataeb Party party. Marie Rose Boulos was an immigrant from Syria who taught deaf-mute children and helped to organize social services for Palestinian camps.

To order the book in Arabic:

To order the book in English:

For an excerpt: http://postapollopress.com/Sitt-Marie.excerpt.html

Reviews:

  • The incredulity toward meta-narratives that Lyotard characterizes as the post-modernist condition is embodied in the narrative technique of Sitt Marie Rose. Thomas Foster, PMLA Journal
  • The story is about a handful of characters and how their relationships are affected by the war…the real protagonist is the city itself. Since the story is narrated in a staccato style, the text takes on a quality reminiscent of Picasso’s Guernica. Celfan Review, Temple University
  • Etel Adnan tells her story in a charged composite of many different forms of discourse: conversation, news bulletins, monologues, interviews and commentary…journalism and film. The influence of the distinguished Arabic poetic tradition, of which she is herself a part, is also evident. Elizabeth Fernea

Etel Adnan’s Published works include:

English:

  • Sitt Marie Rose: A Novel (1978)
  • Master of the Eclipse (2009)
  • Seasons (2008)
  • In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country (2005)
  • In/somnia (2002)
  • There: In the Light and the Darkness of the Self and of the Other (1997)
  • To Write in a Foreign Language (1996)
  • Of Cities and Women, Letters to Fawwaz (1993)
  • Paris, When It’s Naked (1993)
  • The Spring Flowers Own and the Manifestations of the Voyage (1990)
  • The Arab Apocalypse (1989)
  • Journey to Mount Tamalpais: An Essay (1985)
  • The Indian Never Had a Horse and Other Poems (1985)
  • From A to Z Poetry (1982)

Arabic:

  • al-Sitt Mari Ruz: riwayah. (Sitt Marie Rose.), with Jirum Shahin and Firyal Jabburi Ghazul.Al-Qahirah: al-Hayah al-Ammah li-Qusur al-Thaqafah, 2000.
  • n mudun wa-nisa: rasail il Fawwaz. (Of Cities and Women.) Bayrut: Dar al-Hihar, 1998.
  • Kitab al-bahr; kitab al-layal; kitab al-mawt; kitab al-nihayah, with Abid Azarih. Bayrut: Dar Amwaj, 1994.
  • al-Sitt Marie Ruz. Bayrut: al-Mu-assasah al-Arabiyah lil-Dirasat wa-al-Nashr, 1979.

French:

  • Ce ciel qui n’est pas. Paris: LHarmattan, 1997.
  • Rachid Korachi: lcriture passion, with Rachid Korachi and Jamel-Eddine Bencheikh. Alger: Galerie Mhamed Issiakhem, 1988.
  • L’apocalypse arabe. Paris: Papyrus Editions, 1980.
  • Sitt Marie Rose. Paris: Des Femmes, 1978.
  • Jbu: Suivi de l’Express Beyrouth enfer. Paris: P.J. Oswald, 1973.

Discussion Questions:
Note: For many questions we relied upon Among good Christian peoples: Teaching Etal Adnan’s Sitt Marie Rose by John G Champagne, a professor of literature who teaches from Sitt Marie Rose: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3709/is_200010/ai_n8921450/pg_17/?tag=content;col1

  • Sitt Marie Rose is set before and during the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War. It was published in 1977. How does the reading change when within the context of the civil war versus now, 20 years after it was over. How does it remain the same?
  • How is Mounir, who loves Syria and wants to make a film about the Syrian workers in Lebanon, unable to see his subjects?
  • The novel comments great deal on the role of women [Marie Rose describing the shrinking world of her first marriage p49; Tony describing his ‘good’ sister p60; the men are ‘terrified of a woman who can stand up to them’ p. 68;”women stay home more than ever. They consider war like an evening of scores between men.” p13; “every feminine act, even charitable and seemingly unpolitical ones, were regarded as a rebellion in this world where women had always played servile roles” p. 101] – how is
  • Theme of Sexuality and Violence: “they are moved by a sick sexuality, a mad love, where images of crushing and cries dominate” p. 66“Love is a kind of cannibalism” p. 69; the narrator suggests that none of these men receive as much pleasure having sex with a woman as they do either hunting or car racing with one another p3 and points out that the men hate the expression making love p2;
  • Poetic reflection on the compulsion/attraction to violence: “I understood this need for violence one day in front of an electric wire torn from its socket. In the two holes there remained two little its of brilliant copper wire which seemed to call out to me. and I wanted to touch them, to reunite them in my hand, to make that current pass through my body and see what it was like to burn.” p13
  • What relationship is the novel drawing between masculinity, religion, and the way in which Marie Rose’s torturers attempt to rewrite themselves as “European”?
  • Time: the narrative is fragmented and elliptical…sometimes, the narration provides few overt clues to such things as setting, time, and place, and simply “inserts” the reader in the middle of the situation. At other times, it offers specific dates and refers to concrete and actual historical events.
    • How does this impact the reading of the novel? How does this serve the events described within?
    • The narrator in Time I tells us that “[a]ction is fragmented into sections so that no one has an exact image of the whole process” (Adnan 1982, 17).
  • Although it is poetic, with rich imagery and language, this is not an easy read. Did you find yourself reading despite a desire to put the book away? How do these upsetting elements that make it reading difficult serve the purpose of the book? Did you identify with either the characters or the narrator? Further, natural imagery is used throughout disturbing incidents: one example, the Sea: Marie Rose’s love for the children is like the horizon of the sea. The blood of all mix down into the sea p.98, how does this change the reading of these grotesque moments?
  • Layering of Voice: How do you feel as though this structure served the purpose of the book? Example: “Time II: Sitt Marie Rose.” It is divided into three unnamed sections that are further divided into seven unnamed subsections. Each of the three sections designates a different period of time; the sections are arranged chronologically. Within the three sections, the seven numbered subsections are each narrated by a different character or provide an account in reported discourse of Marie Rose’s interactions with that character. The first subsection is told by one of her students; the second is the voice of Marie Rose herself, the third, a character named Mounir; the fourth, a character named Tony; the fifth, a character named Fouad; the sixth, a peasant friar named Bouna Lias; and the seventh, an unnamed narrator whose diction, sensibility, and point of view seem to be that of the unnamed narrator in the novel’s first half. This pattern is replicated in all three sections.
  • How does the author intend for this book to be seen beyond Lebanon? Do you think she is conscious of this? One quote to reflect upon: “As for any serious writer, the audience of an Arab–American cannot be confined to his or her fellow Arabs. Books have a life of their own and no one can determine their fate. The only thing we can strive for consciously is to be aware of the existence of a growing body of Arab–American literature, try to know it and make it known.”
  • One essayist posits: “the novel problematizes the very notion of resistance, and with it, the risk of creating filiative ties through acts of affiliation. How can one resist without deploying the language of opposition, struggle, and enmity that forms the conceptual arsenal of war? How can one form a collective “we” of resistance without creating an opposite “them”?” Olivia C. Harrison, Columbia University
  • This book uses one death to explore/respond to/mourn the entirety of loss from the civil war: “Death is never plural lets not exaggerate its victory. Its total enough. …There are not millions of deaths. It happens millions of times that someone dies” p. 84

Further reading:

  1. Amireh, Amal; “Bearing Witness: The Politics of Form in Etel Adnan’s Sitt Marie Rose.” Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies, 2005 Fall; 14 (3): 251-63. (journal article)
  2. Amyuni, Mona Takieddine. “Etel Adnan & Hoda Barakat: De-Centered Perspectives, Subversive Voices.” IN: Poetry’s Voice-Society’s Norms: Forms of Interaction between Middle Eastern Writers and Their Societies. Ed. Andreas Pflitsch and Barbara Winckler. Wiesbaden, Germany: Reichert; 2006. pp. 211-21
  3. Cassidy, Madeline. “‘Love Is a Supreme Violence': The Deconstruction of Gendered Space in Etel Atnan’s Sitt Marie Rose.” IN: Violence, Silence, and Anger: Women’s Writing as Transgression. Ed. Deirdre Lashgari. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia; 1995. pp. 282-90
  4. Champagne, John G. “Among Good Christian Peoples: Teaching Etel Adnan’s Sitt Marie Rose.” College Literature, 2000 Fall; 27 (3): 47-70.
  5. Fernea, Elizabeth. “The Case of Sitt Marie Rose: An Ethnographic Novel from the Modern Middle East.” IN: Literature and Anthropology. Ed. Philip Dennis and Wendell Aycock. Lubbock: Texas Tech UP; 1989. pp. 153-164
  6. Foster, Thomas. “Circles of Oppression, Circles of Repression: Etel Adnan’s Sitt Marie Rose.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, 1995 Jan; 110 (1): 59-74.
  7. Ghandour, Sabah. “Gender, Postcolonial Subject, and the Lebanese Civil War in Sitt Marie Rose.” IN: The Postcolonial Crescent: Islam’s Impact on Contemporary Literature. Ed. John C. Hawley. New York, NY: Peter Lang; 1998. pp. 155-65
  8. Hajjar, Jacqueline A. “Death, Gangrene of the Soul, in Sitt Marie Rose by Etel Adnan.” Revue Celfan/Celfan Review, 1988 May; 7 (3): 27-33.
  9. Hartman, Michelle. “‘This Sweet/Sweet Music': Jazz, Sam Cooke, and Reading Arab American Literary Identities.” MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, 2006 Winter; 31 (4): 145-65.
  10. Karnoub, Elisabeth. “‘Une Humanité qui ne cesse de crucifier le Christ': Réécriture du sacrifice christique dans Sitt Marie Rose de Etel Adnan.” IN: Victims and Victimization in French and Francophone Literature. Ed. Buford Norman. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Rodopi; 2005. pp. 59-71
  11. Kilpatrick, Hilary. “Interview with Etel Adnan (Lebanon).” IN: Unheard Words: Women and Literature in Africa, the Arab World, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America. Ed. Mineke Schipper. Trans. Barbara Potter Fasting. London: Allison & Busby; 1985. pp. 114-120
  12. Layoun, Mary N. “Translation, Cultural Transgression and Tribute, and Leaden Feet.” IN: Between Languages and Cultures: Translation and Cross-Cultural Texts. Ed. Anuradha Dingwaney and Carol Maier. Pittsburgh, PA: U of Pittsburgh P; 1995. pp. 267-89
  13. Marie, Elisabeth Anne. Sacrifice, sacrifée, sacrificatrice: L’étrange triptyque: Sacrifices au féminin dans trois romans francophones libanais. Dissertation Abstracts International, Section A: The Humanities and Social Sciences, 2003 May; 63 (11): 3961. U of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2002.
  14. Mejcher-Atassi, Sonja. “Breaking the Silence: Etel Adnan’s Sitt Marie Rose and The Arab Apocalypse.” IN: Poetry’s Voice-Society’s Norms: Forms of Interaction between Middle Eastern Writers and Their Societies. Ed. Andreas Pflitsch and Barbara Winckler. Wiesbaden, Germany: Reichert; 2006. pp. 201-10
  15. Mustafa, Daliya Sa’id (translator). “Al-Kitabah bi-lughah ajnabiyyah.” Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, 2000; 20: 133-43 (Arabic section); 300-01 (English section).
  16. Muzaffar, May. “Iytil ‘Adnan: Qarinat al-nur wa-al-ma’.” Arabi, 2007 Feb; 579: 64-68.
  17. Obank, Margaret. “Private Syntheses and Multiple Identities.” Banipal: Magazine of Modern Arab Literature, 1998 June; 2: 59-61.
  18. Shoaib, Mahwash. “Surpassing Borders and ‘Folded Maps': Etel Adnan’s Location in There.” Studies in the Humanities, 2003 June-Dec; 30 (1-2): 21-28.
  19. Willis, Mary-Angela. “Francophone Literature of the Middle East by Women: Breaking the Walls of Silence.” IN: Francophone Post-Colonial Cultures: Critical Essays. Ed. Kamal Salhi. Lanham, MD: Lexington; 2003. pp. 64-74
  20. Willis, Mary-Angela. La Guerre démasquée à travers la voix féminine dans Sitt Marie Rose d’Etel Adnan et Coquelicot du massacre d’Evelyne Accad. Dissertation Abstracts International, Section A: The Humanities and Social Sciences, 2002 Mar; 62 (9): 3061. U of Alabama, 2001.

One comment on “Sitt Marie Rose (الست ماري روز) by Etel Adnan

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