Reviews||

The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing by Darina Al-Joundi

2nd Aug 2011

★★★★
The_Day_Nina_Simone_Stopped_Singing_Darina_Al_Joundi
If you were hoping for an account of the gospel, jazz and blues diva who died in France as recently as 2003, this is not it. An appreciation of the grand dame’s music together with riffs of Led Zep form just part of a rich yet eclectic diet of cultural enrichment provided by Darina Al-Joundi’s unconventional father, a political refugee from Syria.

Le jour où Nina Simone a cessé de chanterDarina Al-Joundi’s The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing – was first published as a play to great acclaim when aired at the Avignon festival in 2007.

This is a memoir of Darina’s coming of age against a backdrop of bullets in war-torn Beirut. While the author’s Shi’te mother is very often away her presence is felt when heard Kate Adie style reading the latest atrocities to ravage the country where she is “one of the great names in Lebanese radio.”

So it is Daddy Al-Joundi, philosophy and literature teacher who takes it upon himself to give Darina lessons in the art of fine wine tasting at age eight and introduces her to cult cinematic classics such as A Clockwork Orange and Last Tango in Paris. A passion for books and of Dostoevsky, Mayakovsky and Arab erotic writers is shared.

Loathing all religions, Al-Joundi senior sets out to steer his offspring down the same path, with strict orders for them to play Nina Simon’s Sinnerman at his funeral rather than traditional suras of the Qur’an.

From early childhood you sense that our author is a rocket waiting to go off and she throws herself into a voyage of sexual abandon with no holds barred.Amid this tumultuous education recurring acts of rebellion are an indication that Darina, who loves the ritual of the Catechism, needs a little more structure in her life and not the kind that lead her to conspire with her sister to get Sinnerman played sooner rather than later.

It is a short journey from picking the emerald tobacco leaves alongside her paternal grandfather to smoking spliffs. From early childhood you sense that our author is a rocket waiting to go off and she throws herself into a voyage of sexual abandon with no holds barred.

The sex isn’t all great, and most of it is anonymous. There are some nasty experiences, which reinforce our author’s independence and make her the woman she is today.

This is so much more than account of the war in Lebanon in the 1970’s. Al-Joundi fills you in and really highlights the sense of loss felt by the Palestinians, leading us to reflect on Middle Eastern stereotypes.

It’s a rollercoaster of a read and utterly captivating – you won’t want to stop the ride and get off. At 144 pages you won’t use it as a doorstop, but I bet you anything you’ll want to share it with a friend.

The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing by Darina Al-Joundi and Mohamed Kacimi is translated by Marjolijn de Jager. Published by The Feminist Press, it can be found in paperback at Amazon for £9.89.