Raw and moving is the new novel by Catelan-Moroccan writer Najat el Hachmi, Monday will be kept from us. An impressive story about the meaning of true freedom, and the price to pay for it.
'Monday, Monday, Monday... Monday we will be different. Monday we will be loved.' Every week, young woman Naïma tries to improve her life: to be even more obedient, to be even slimmer, to be even more diligent and work harder. Trying to be who she should be, instead of who she is. 'On Monday, we will fit into all the models we are presented with.'
In the strict religious environment she grows up in, as 'the daughter of Muh' as her father is called, these are quite a few. Women leave the house only to run an errand and further devote themselves to the children and the household. They clean up the mess left by father and sons. The social control on women is huge, and from childhood, girls are inculcated that their bodies are something sinful, and sexuality and lust dangerous and depraved. A love-hate relationship with her body is thus hardwired into Naïma.
But a new friend challenges her worldview. This young lady - the narrator calls her heart friend only 'you' - does not submit to religious and social norms; she wants to work, dreams of having her own hair salon and a marriage based on love and equality. Tentatively, the desire for a different life also begins to stir in Naïma: she wants to study and become a writer.
By choosing their own husbands, they escape being married off; they marry young and both soon have a child. But what looked like freedom turns out to be old wine in new bottles: their 'modern' husbands don't perform either, while their forward-thinking wives work their asses off not only inside the house but now also outside to bring in the money.
The price they pay for their desire for the freedom to be themselves is high: exclusion from their families, broken homes, deep loneliness. While 'all we wanted was to be loved. Just the way we were.'
Najat el Hachmi wrote a powerful and moving novel about freedom, and about how we are defined, driven and held captive by long-standing mechanisms, conventions and (delusional) ideas. Whatever your colour, background or preferences, On Monday, we will be held tells an important story for everyone.