Nicholas E. Barron

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Tag: women’s rights

Why Charlotte S. Gray Wrote About a Girl Accused of Killing Her Father

Charlotte S. Gray, the author of “Fatima’s Room” (June 2017, Arc Light Books), was in Sudan teaching girls from 1991-1993. This was a period in that country’s history leading up to civil war. Sudanese optimism of post-colonial rule was giving way to religious extremism. And it’s a setting that inspired “Fatima’s Room,” Gray’s first work of fiction.Image of a Charlotte S. Gray quote reading, "these women, of course, are very clever. You always have to be more clever if you're the suppressed one because you have to figure out how to deal with the suppressor."

I spent a little time on the phone with Gray last month. Below is a condensed version of our conversation. And in case you missed it, here’s my review of “Fatima’s Room”.

“Fatima’s Room” is available for purchase here or on Amazon.

Interview with Charlotte S. Gray

Q: Why did you write “Fatima’s Room”? And why now?

A: “It (‘Fatima’s Room’) has a long history. I couldn’t find the right form. It just took this long before I came around to writing this fictional story where it worked for me. First, I was more the academic person. I thought that I was doing some documentary or documenting, but then I decided it’s better to write it as a fiction story. And then use all the material I had. Which I have managed, I think, to put a lot into the novel. But, you know, there’s a fine line to thread there. You don’t want to put too much stuff about a culture. The story has to move along, too, so you have to find a balancing way.”

Q: How did you balance between story and giving readers a sense of the culture and religion of Fatima and her family?

A: “I have a sense that a story must move on. I will tell the story, and I will feel how much I can put in without slowing it down too much. I mean like the female genital mutilation. How much could I tell about it? Well, I think I managed to tell quite a bit, but you can’t slow down the story too much. If the thing you’re telling helps shape who she (Fatima) became, then it belongs in the story. Otherwise not.”

Q: Was Fatima being kept in a room of her uncle’s house a metaphor for how she was being held back by her culture?Cover of "Fatima's Room" by Charlotte S. Gray.

A: “I think this room thing had a lot of advantages. I think you can say that it was a metaphor and that she was trapped. But it also had other advantages. In fact, she was quite happy there. She finally had a little peace to herself and could think her own thoughts and wasn’t being chased up to do house chores. This was her chance also to find out more about herself. I had no idea I was going to talk anything about sexual discovery. In a way, that just came from Fatima, from describing her being in that room and suddenly it seemed completely natural and that it had to be there. And, actually, it’s a very important subject, so I’m glad it came to me. Because I think for a woman like that, part of finding out who she is is to move into her own body and discover her sexuality. And then she understood suddenly better how she had been repressed.”

Q: Fatima is visited by various women, all who seem to have different opinions about a woman’s role in Sudanese culture. Did you intend to show Fatima being pulled in different directions by the women in her life?

A: “It’s just a realistic picture of how it is and how women function differently. So I’m just trying to give different kinds of characters to different women because these are different ways with how you cope with where you are and the various oppressions. And that’s how it was. And these women, of course, are very clever. You always have to be more clever if you’re the suppressed one because you have to figure out how to deal with the suppressor.”

Q: Fatima is being held in a room in her uncle’s home because she’s accused of killing her father. What’s the meaning behind having her accused of killing her father?Image of a Charlotte S. Gray quote reading, "the ultimate thing you could rebel against as a female would be the patriarch."

A: “I knew this particular girl, and she told me about her family life and how the parents always screamed at her, ‘We’ll kill you! We’ll kill you!’ And all the way back I had this idea of the female rebel. And the ultimate thing you could rebel against as a female would be the patriarch.”

Q: The book takes place in a period of Sudanese history when things are getting worse for people, not better. But through Fatima’s grandmother’s recollections, we get a sense of how optimistic the Sudanese had been when the country first emerged from British colonial rule.

A: “I guess that is not an uncommon experience with a country that gains its independence and has such high hopes and, of course, especially for the women. Everything was going to get better. Women were going to be able to leave their homes, go out and work. And, of course, it went the other way.

Q: What was that experience like for you as a teacher, witnessing the growing oppression of the young women you were teaching?

A: “I was an outsider and I could leave and thereby my experience is very different. That brings us to that whole discussion of whether I’m an insider or an outsider and whether I really have the right to write a book like this. Who are we to say something? That is one reason I’m careful to put it in the feminist context and that’s where it belongs. And where I talk out of solidarity.

Some people will argue, ‘Well, you shouldn’t even be writing about that because, you know, you just came and saw and left again.’ But I don’t accept that argument because after all, I think it’s a writer’s right and privilege and up to his or her skill to be able to enter the mind of people who are different or from somewhere else or from another time or another gender. I don’t agree that you can only write about people who are exactly from your own worldview or where you come from.”

“Fatima’s Room” is available for purchase here or on Amazon.

Image of a Charlotte S. Gray quote reading "these women, of course, are very clever. You always have to be more clever if you're the suppressed one because you have to figure out how to deal with the suppressor."

“Fatima’s Room” Uses Story to Raise Awareness of Women’s Issues

“Fatima’s Room,” by Charlotte S. Gray, is about a Sudanese girl’s fight for her life.

Set in Sudan, the book opens with Fatima being accused of killing her father. She’s held in a room inside her favorite uncle’s house while her family decides her fate.

Enter to win a copy of “Fatima’s Room” by publishing the tweet below. See giveaway details.

I've entered to win #newbook 'Fatima's Room' in the #FatimasRoomGiveaway. Click To Tweet

The story takes place in the 1990s before there were two Sudans. Fatima lives in Sudan’s north, in Khartoum, where Sharia law is practiced. Her fate rests largely in how her uncles decide to implement punishment based on Sharia law. Death is certainly a possibility for Fatima.

What will happen to Fatima is one question dominating “Fatima’s Room.” Another question is how this seemingly kind and gentle girl came to be accused of patricide. Did she really kill her father?Cover of "Fatima's Room" by Charlotte S. Gray.

Answering the latter question is one part of Fatima’s past that Gray uses to tell this story.

Indeed, much of the book’s action occurs in the time before Fatima became imprisoned in her uncle’s home. After all, this is a story set inside one room featuring one main character. And Gray does a wonderful job flipping between past and present to bring us up to speed while advancing the story.

“Fatima’s Room” is an insightful book by Gray, someone who lived and worked for years with girls in Sudan. The book successfully bridges the gap between Sudan and Western readers, helping us understand the challenges faced by individuals caught in one of the world’s most challenging struggles, that of Sudan.

Gray’s writing is efficient yet compelling. She adeptly puts you inside Fatima’s room and inside Fatima’s mind.

The Parallels of “Fatima’s Room”

Something else Gray does well is to draw a parallel between Fatima’s confinement by place and confinement by culture.

“Fatima’s Room” is the story of a girl being held captive, accused of killing her father. But it’s also the story of a girl being held captive by a culture that oppresses women.

The book begins as a story about a girl confined to a room. Before you realize it, though, you’re reading a story about a girl oppressed her culture.

Gray most visibly exemplifies this oppression with female circumcision. Fatima frequently reflects back to when she and others in her family were subjected to this barbaric act.

And Fatima frequently considers the broader question of how her culture treats women.

The Sudan of Fatima’s time is one in regression. The optimism of moving past colonialism has faded, a time in her country’s history Fatima is aware of through her grandmother’s experiences: “This was something Fatima’s grandmother always complained about: times had changed for the worse with all this religion and Sharia laws.”

How girls like Fatima are treated in Sudan is almost as oppressive as possible, but the book raises larger questions about the treatment of women in more modern societies.

Yes, readers of “Fatima’s Room” are asked to feel something for the women in countries like Sudan. But we’re also asked to consider how women are treated in societies with more modern views than those of Fatima’s Sudan.

Through “Fatima’s Room” we see the immensity of impact a culture can have on one girl’s life. After all, “Fatima’s Room” is the story of a girl caught in the swirling rapids of her country’s culture.

And that’s a story of universal impact, a story that’s replicated with varying details across the globe.

“Fatima’s Room” is available for purchase here or on Amazon.

“Fatima’s Room” Giveaway

I’m giving away three copies of Charlotte S. Gray’s “Fatima’s Room”. Here’s how you can enter for your chance to win a copy of the book:

1) Publish a tweet or Facebook post. Your tweet must contain a link to this blog post and the hashtag #FatimasRoomGiveaway. Your Facebook post must contain a link to this blog post, the hashtag #FatimasRoomGiveaway, and tag my Facebook page (@writerbarron).

Each tweet and Facebook post you publish that follows these rules counts as an entry into the giveaway. For example, if you publish three tweets that link to this blog post and contain the hashtag #FatimasRoomGiveaway, you’ll have three entries to win. In other words, the more you tweet and post, the more you increase your chances to win.

An easy way to enter the giveaway is to click and publish the tweet below. The deadline to enter the drawing is 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Friday, June 16.

I've entered to win #newbook 'Fatima's Room' in the #FatimasRoomGiveaway. Click To Tweet

2) Subscribe to my newsletter. All subscribers to my newsletter by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Friday, June 16, 2017, will be entered into a drawing to win a copy of “Fatima’s Room”. This is part of my monthly book giveaway.

3) Check back next week. I’ll announce the third giveaway for a copy of “Fatima’s Room” on this blog next week.


  • You must be in the United States in order to participate in the giveaway. (And, if you win, you must have a valid U.S. mailing address at which you can receive a copy of the book.)
  • You can only win one copy of the book. That means three different people will win a copy of “Fatima’s Room”.
  • If your name is drawn to win a copy of the book, you will be contacted in the platform by which you entered the giveaway. For example, if you win the Twitter giveaway, I will contact you through Twitter.
  • You must respond within 48 hours of receiving my notification that you’ve won the giveaway in order to receive your copy of the book. Failure to respond within 48 hours will result in your win being nullified and another winner being selected at random.
  • Winners will be selected at random using The drawing will take place on Saturday, June 17, 2017.
  • Winners will receive one paperback copy of “Fatima’s Room” by Charlotte Gray by the United States Postal Service mail.

Best of luck!

Fatima's Room Book Cover Fatima's Room
Charlotte S. Gray
Arc Light Books
June 4, 2017

"Fatima's Room" is a novel set in Khartoum. Fatima is a young woman accused of an unimaginable crime. She is confined to her room while her uncles will decide her fate. Fatima fills the hot and worrisome days of waiting, by writing in her journal. She remembers the time before her imprisonment, and imagines what the future might be. All the while family members come and go, interrupting her reflection with various schemes: to reconcile--or escape.

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