Fatima Yousef al-Ali is known for her stories about Kuwaiti women. She praises her father’s encouragement for her career and says that while she is happily married, few of her characters are. She portrays the lives of women from different strata of Kuwait society, whether the school assistant in “Behind a Locked Window,” the schoolgirl in “Nothing Shameful,” or the wealthy sophisticate in “A Woman’s Pains Never End.”
Being a pioneering Kuwaiti woman author has meant a degree of marginalization, evidenced by a need to improvise publishing arrangements. One benefit of writing beneath the radar of public scrutiny, though, has been her ability to describe and discuss human sexuality in a candid fashion.
Fatima Yousef al-Ali’s short stories open a window on a world that seems a bit mysterious to some Americans. The heroine’s spouse in “Vote for Me!” is not overtly abusive but will certainly not be voting for her. The administrator of public grants detects so many flaws in the applicants that he decides to award all of them to himself. Lismira, in her story, is stranded in a gloomy city far from Kuwait and from her lover and her spouse. The heroine in “A Woman’s Pains Never End” is as much a predator as the self-righteous religious admirer who climbs in bed with her in a hotel room in Asia and scratches her with his beard. It is hard to strike the right balance in considering the status of women in Kuwait. Fatima Yousef al-Ali’s depictions of women from many walks of life help the reader better understand the challenges facing them, and thus helps us learn more about ourselves, too.
The narrator of the short story “Behind a Latched Window” is a female school assistant in Kuwait. She describes her experiences during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (August 2, 1990 to February 26, 1991) from behind her latched window. While trying to calm her elderly mother, the terrified narrator observes the arrival of Iraqi tanks and soldiers in front of her house. Although at first she finds fault with her fellow citizens for not putting up a fight, she herself, despite her conservative social views, finds herself becoming part of a vibrant Kuwaiti resistance movement. The hallucinatory ending may reflect dramatic events outside her window or inside her own mind.
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