This novel, by Egyptian author Hala El Badry, first published in Arabic in 2001 and winner of the best novel prize at the Cairo International Book Fair of that year, is a significant contribution to the growing canon of literature by Arabic women writing about their own experiences. A Certain Woman follows Nahid, a woman determined to expand the bounds of her life beyond her arid marriage to Mustafa and her job as an archaeologist, frustrated at every turn by a stifling bureaucracy. While maintaining the external niceties that society demands of her, Nahid embarks on a journey of discovery that will reveal to her not only the external norms and taboos, but also her own self-imposed limitations, doubts and forbidden areas. When she meets and falls in love with Omar, a writer who is himself struggling both with his novel and his marriage to wife Maggie, she begins to explore elements of her emotions and sexuality that she had repressed and thought lost.
Through the honest and heartfelt testimonies of Nahid, Mustafa, Omar and Maggie, we see Egyptian society and politics in all its turbulence and flux. The fluidity and mutability of the characters and their volatile environment is mirrored in the limpid prose style. The translation too is an absolute joy, right down to the precise ambiguity of the title. The one thing we can truly say about Nahid is that she is, most emphatically, not a certain woman.