Review: The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing by Darina Al-Joundi

The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing

Darina Al-Joundi with Mohamed Kacimi

Translated from the French by Marjolijn De Jager

Publication Date: March 2011

144 pages

Feminist Press

Source: Personal Library

My philosophy of life was very simple. I was convinced that I was going to die at any moment, so, hungry for everything, for sex, drugs, and alcohol, I doubled my efforts. I always had a bottle of whiskey in my bag, a pack of cigarettes, and a candle that I would light on the sidewalk on the corner of Makhoul Street where I would spend hours by myself. I wanted to take a sexual revenge. I made love like a madwoman, with anyone anywhere. Although I felt nothing I’d do it under porches, on the gravestones of the orthodox cemetery, on the beach, in showers, in cars, and especially in the bathrooms of bars. With a brutality that left no room for desire and even less for any feeling.

As a child, Darina Al-Joundi was raised by a very liberal father and a mother who’s strong and caring but who also stays in the shadow of her husband. As a result of her father’s influence, mother’s silence, and the ongoing civil war in the country, Darina grows up trying to rebel against all the horrors she witnesses: murders, starvation, and bombings. She rebels but with mixed results: three marriages by her mid-twenties, a bad reputation in her city, but the knowledge that she is more than her surroundings.

When I first started reading this book I thought it was really disjointed. One minute the author would talk about Beirut, the next a prank that she pulled on her grandmother which resulted in her first spanking. But as I kept reading I realized that the structure of the book is intentional. The first thirty years of Darina Al-Joundi’s life was chaotic. Her father was a man who thought that religion was the root of all evil and taught the author and her two sisters to never join a religion. He would rather they do anything else but that. He was raising his children in an extreme way: there was no discipline, the girls’ first cigarettes and glasses of liquor came from him, and their mother had almost no say. Al-Joundi was wild from the start and became a woman who tested her limits all the time.

The reader doesn’t have to know anything about Lebanon to follow the story – the author fills in the blanks about the years of war that ravaged the country and damaged its inhabitants,

It felt strange to walk the city streets without the militia shouting and the noise of bullets. It would take just a few days for the city’s [Beirut] features to be completely transformed. Everyone was so eager to turn the page, to forget the 150 thousand who had died for nothing. The snipers, the gunmen, the assassins melted away into the crowd in no time. An army of assassins vanished into thin air with a wave of the magic wand called amnesia. . . Everyone had turned the page very fast, without reading it. The Lebanese disposed of their war history like a dead body.

The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing is a memoir that shocks while also making the reader nod in agreement about Al-Joundi’s journey. You could call this memoir a war story but it’s so much more than that. It’s also the coming-of-age tale of a woman who refuses to be anyone but herself.

About Vasilly

Mother, daughter, sister, college student, bookworm, lover of chocolate and coffee.
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13 Responses to Review: The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing by Darina Al-Joundi

  1. Beth F says:

    Humm. I would have likely passed on this because I’m not usually into war stories. But coming-of-age stories are another matter. If I try it, I’ll remember not to be thrown by the initial disjointed feeling.

    • Vasilly says:

      I’m not really into war stories either and didn’t even know that war was going to be a part of the story but it was definitely worth it!

  2. bermudaonion says:

    Wow, what an upbringing to endure. I do love memoirs and reading about other cultures so this one might be for me.

  3. vivienne says:

    I was actually expecting it to be about Nina Simone,so complete surprise there.

  4. zibilee says:

    That opening quote really grabbed me and shook me, and makes me think that this would be a really visceral read and one that I would enjoy for it’s strange candor. I can’t imagine growing up like that, and it’s not hard to see why she had so many problems. Fantastic review on this book. On to the wish list it goes!

    • Vasilly says:

      I can’t imagine growing up in that way either. She had so many problems that I think had to do with her upbringing and also with her personality. The author is very headstrong and has a habit of learning things the “hard way”. Glad to know that it’s going on your wish list!

  5. So what does all this have to do with Nina Simone?!!! I would definitely read a memoir about her; I love her! Although this sounds good too!

    • Vasilly says:

      The author’s father loved jazz and listening to Nina Simone. The day he died is the day she “stopped singing” for the author. I tried to include that in my review but couldn’t do so without the review sounding awkward.😦

  6. Kathleen says:

    It seems like I’ve been on a roll with reading memoirs lately so I think I should add this one to the list!

  7. Belle Wong says:

    Powerful opening quote – I don’t normally hear a distinctive “voice” in my mind when reading quotes from books, but in this case, I did. This sounds like a great memoir.

  8. amymckie says:

    This sounds like a really interesting book. I’ll have to keep my eye out for it.

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