Darina Al-Joundi’s Distinct Story Telling Makes Her Experience Come to Life in The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing

Posted By: Mansi Trivedi 

Experiences described in novels and memoirs are hard to imagine unless the reader can relate directly to these experiences.  While reading I was reading Al Joundi’s memoir it was very difficult to relate to the incidents that occurred in her life due to the drama and pain surrounding each experience. Rape, abuse, and identity crises are already topics that are hard to relate to unless the reader has experienced them himself or herself, but Al-Joundi’s experiences were even harder to relate to because she herself is so removed for them. In order to make her experiences as real and imaginable as possible she told “the story of her childhood, her wars, her drug habit, and her love affairs without any self-censorship” (5). The openness and frankness in the way Al-Joundi tells her story makes herself seem removed from her life events, but her distinct story telling style makes it easier for the reader to relate to her disturbing experiences.

Al-Joundi’s life is marked by many shocking memories of injustice. Many of the memories concern her inability to identify with any one religion. Her father is very anti Islam and sends his daughters to a Christian private school. Al-Joundi shows great interest in catechism where she learns stories from the Bible. One day she is prevented from attending her favorite class because she is accused of being Muslim due to her family’s Syrian heritage. In revenge she pees in front of the holy water. Al-Joundi describes her punishment in few words saying “She stopped my ears up with Laughing Cow cheese and then locked me up in the cell with rats, where I spent many hours. Only this time I did not expect Jesus Christ to arrive” (27). The lack of description in this quote gives the reader the ability to imagine for him or herself what Al-Joundi’s punishment must have felt like by literally putting themselves in her situation and envisioning what it must feel like having cheese shoved in their ears. Though Al-Joundi does not use emotionally charged language or give much description of her feelings the bluntness of her last statement reveals how this one incident in her life caused her to lose faith in god as a savior. And with one quotation the reader is able to fully understand Al-Joundi’s experience that day and feel sympathy for her despite the lack of sympathetic language, and her own obvious detachment to the event itself.

Al-Joundi’s almost cold and unforgiving story telling style was not limited to her scenes of punishment in school, but also the death that she witnessed while growing up during times of war. When describing death it becomes more apparent that she removes herself emotionally and almost physically from the events occurring around her. For example, she describes witnessing someone get shot “I saw a young man insult a pedestrian who was standing in the middle of the street. The latter pulled a gun from his pocket, ordered the young man to get out of the car…and apologize. He refused. The other put a bullet between his eyes and then went on his way” (92). In this example she maintains her distance from the event emotionally and physically by only describing the actions of the two men involved in the quarrel. Al-Joundi gives no hint to what emotionally she must have felt seeing someone get murdered. In fact the tone of the quote and her description of the man walking away almost makes the event seem normal. Yet, despite her ability to separate herself from the events the tone she uses gives the reader the capacity to realize how horrifying war is and its long lasting effects on people that can make murder seem like an everyday normal occurrence

This same blunt, frank, static tone is used to describe her most intimate encounters with people. For example, she describes playing a game of Russian roulette with her friends Ramzi and Hussein as they are taking hits of cocaine. Al-Joundi once again removes her self from the incident “He pulled. His brain spurted out on my hair. Crumpled in his corner, Hussein was shrieking at the top of his lungs. I picked up the song where Ramzi left off…I opened his left hand, I took his dose…’The hit is more important than death’” (114). While she describes what she physically did she does not give an indication to how she emotionally felt watching her friend die the way she does for Hussein. This lack of information forces the reader, just like in the previous example, to imagine for themselves the state Al-Joundi must have been in while playing this dangerous game. By giving very few details and distancing herself from the event Al-Joundi forces the reader to become one with the text by placing themselves almost literally in her shoes to get a better idea of what the effects the drugs and the pain had on her that she had become desensitized to death itself.

 In The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing the authors use of tone and style of writing greatly affects the readers ability to interpret the text. It seems that the more Al-Joundi removes herself from the text and her writing the reader is given more room for interpretation and understanding. And in the process the reader actually begins to understand some of Al-Joundi’s horrifying life experience and they begin to associate themselves with each one of her experiences.