Blood Feast: The Complete Short Stories of Malika Moustadraf
Blood Feast is a collection of 14 posthumously published short stories by Malika Moustadraf. This collection is the first time Moustadraf’s work has appeared in any language asides from Arabic.
The stories in Blood Feast have that ‘leaving a lot unsaid’ theme that I have found in many Arab short stories collections, but Moustadraf’s sarcastic and critical humour gives this collection a unique writing style.
Despite Guthrie's brilliant translation, that sarcastic and critical humour is likely more apparent in Moustadraf’s original writing. One can only imagine how much her writing style would have grown had she not died young.
"Misogyny is at the centre of Moustadraf’s stories. With her unique writing style, she succinctly tackles the different, and sometimes, unnameable colours of misogyny"
Misogyny is at the centre of Moustadraf’s stories. With her unique writing style, she succinctly tackles the different, and sometimes, unnameable colours of misogyny.
For example, in The Ruse, readers see how the societal obsession with female virginity pushes women and girls to embrace hymenoplasty.
Here, she also subtly explores how patriarchy ultimately reaps the monetary benefits of this procedure.
Woman: a Djellaba and a Packet of milk is another harrowing example of how systemic misogyny punishes and exploits women at the same time.
In this story, a woman struggles to survive and feed her baby after all the men in her life desert her while refusing to empower her. What is interesting about this story is that the phrase ‘all the men in her lives’ includes the men in civil service (like the judge that ruled in the favour of her husband).
In the end, the only lifeline that dangles in front of this woman is sex work – a lifeline that this systemic misogyny will undoubtedly shame her for grabbing.
In another story called Housefly, Moustadraf explores an irony that is still rampant in many societies today.
Here, a woman tries to get away from her daily mundane life by chatting online with two men who proposition her. But her husband believes her to be secluded in their home because even a male housefly would not survive in their home (because he would kill it).
Housefly, like Head Lice, seems to be Moustadraf’s attempt at exploring how the rise of internet use at the time would impact women's lives in Moroccan societies.
Moustadraf also highlighted how political corruption mixes with – and feeds – hypocritical misogyny in Moroccan society.
In Delusion, the main character is a cranky young man who is frustrated with his economic situation. Instead of directing that valid anger to the government, he chooses to blame the women around him.
He blames his sister for not taking him to France after marrying a Christian Frenchmen, and he blames the neighbourhood girls (who he lusts after) for having easy lives because they can “show a bit of thigh”.
The titular story, Blood Feast features a man recently diagnosed with chronic kidney disease.
Here, our main character slowly realizes how corruption seeps into the healthcare system and prevents patients from accessing treatment. Despite the injustice he feels, our main character does not dial back his misogyny – and he doesn’t seem to feel the need to.
Both of these stories present a vivid description of hypocritical misogyny that is fuelled by corruption.
The increased interaction between Moustadraf and her Palestinian writer-friends towards her passing is also evident in Death – the last story in Blood Feast and one of the last writings she made.
In Death, Moustadraf switched from her signature themes, to explore war and death in Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon. The title of this story and how short it is may also hint at her looming death (at the time of writing) and how short her life was.
Another intriguing thing about Blood Feast is the extra colour that its translator’s note adds to it. Guthrie introduces readers to Moustadraf, her writing process, some of her views (through interviews conducted during her lifetime), and the illness that eventually took her life.
Guthrie uses this note to convey how close the global literary world was to losing out on Moustadraf’s voice.
It is also in this translator’s note that readers witness how Moustadraf was criticized because of the themes she chose to focus on – these critics often taunted her by suggesting that her writings were autobiographical rather than fictional.
Responding to these criticisms in an interview, Moustadraf made a comment that is still relevant today: “Women have always been, and still are, accused of being the true protagonists of what they write. Why are women prosecuted for what they write, unlike men?”
I also find it funny that the story that her personal experiences inspired Blood Feast did not receive the same ‘accusation’.
I did not always connect with the social commentaries Moustadraf gave in the stories that make up Blood Feast, but her writing style will cause this collection to stay with me for a long time. My heart is heavy knowing that (asides from her debut and this collection) we will never get to experience the brilliant stories she would have told.
Aisha Yusuff is a book reviewer with a focus on African and Muslim literature. Her work can be found on @thatothernigeriangirl as well as in digital magazines like Rewrite London.
Follow her on Twitter: @allthingsaeesha