Ruptured, a novel by Egyptian author Tarek Hassan Refaat, isn't always an easy one to read. It tells about the emotional aftermath of a sexual assault. Its main character, Farida, is a strong-willed survivor, so she is able to triumph even in the face of a society that looks down on her for something that wasn't her fault.
Refaat writes in his introduction, "In a Middle Eastern society, a woman who has suffered such a horrible experience as rape is condemned in the eyes and words of the community.
"People never cease talking about her, or wondering if she was the cause of the incident and, even if not, they regard her as ‘used goods’ or an ‘expired product’ who should be satisfied with whatever comes her way, even if this means getting married to someone who doesn’t suit her or care about her. The pressure the victim undergoes is tremendous. In this novel, I attempt to take you on a journey of pain, struggle, and hope."
This attitude, unfortunately, is not confined to the Middle East. Until girls all around the world are educated equally along with their brothers, their thoughts and contributions to society are valued and males are taught from an early age to respect women, sexual assault survivors all over the world will still be able to identify with Farida's struggle, the dark times in her life, and her post-traumatic stress syndrome. It's yet another reminder that the fight for equal rights for women - even the basic human right not to undergo rape and other forms of torture - is one we must continue to fight.
Making matters worse for Farida is her Machiavellian co-worker Gihad, who's scheming for her position at the magazine where they work. As thoughtless as she is ambitious, Gihad betrays Farida in an unimaginable way. Gihad's betrayal is almost as difficult to read as the passages that deal directly with the rape.
As Refaat's introduction promises, though, there are moments of hope as well. Farida seems to find a true friend in her new co-worker, Dr. Karam. The psychiatrist is extremely empathetic and professional toward her, helping Farida slowly heal. He may even be developing romantic feelings for her, though his professionalism and manners ensure that he will go about expressing his feelings in a respectful, appropriate way.
As you may have gathered from some of my previous reviews, when I read fiction that involves a character who has been sexually abused, I demand sensitivity on the part of the writer. Tarek Refaat writes with sensitivity, sympathy and an eye toward human dignity at all times. He takes us inside Farida's head, a very dark place, but ultimately a place where survival and healing can occur. This isn't an easy book, but it's a lovely and worthwhile story of the triumph of the human spirit.