Nawal El Saadawi

The author and narrator of the book. Nawal is a psychiatrist who interviews women in prison. She meets one prisoner, Firdaus, and decides to tell her the sad story of her life.

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The narrator of most of the book. Firdaus is a young woman who flees her abusive husband and becomes a prostitute, then an office worker, and then a prostitute again. She finally kills a man who forces her to accept him as her pimp. When Nawal El Saadawi meets Firdaus, she is in prison waiting to be executed.

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Firdaus’s Uncle

The man who takes Firdaus in after her parents die.

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The coffee shop owner Firdaus meets after she flees her husband’s beatings. Bayoumi is kind to Firdaus at first, but then he begins to beat her. Eventually, he locks her in the apartment and allows his friends to have their way with her.


The journalist and onetime client of Firdaus. Di’aa becomes her friend, and then tells her she is not respectable, prompting Firdaus to give up prostitution and begin working at an office.


Firdaus’s friend from work. Fatheya suspects that Firdaus is in love with Ibrahim.


A male friend of Sharifa’s. Fawzy wants to take Firdaus with him and become her pimp, but Sharifa is already making money off of Firdaus and won’t let him. When Firdaus hears them discussing this, she flees and sets up her own prostitution business.


A toddler. Hala is the youngest of Firdaus’s uncle’s children, and the only one who is kind to Firdaus.


One of Firdaus’s colleagues at her office, and a “revolutionary.” Ibrahim joins Firdaus in the courtyard of the office compound one night, where they cry together. Firdaus falls in love with him, and they have a relationship that ends when she overhears that he is engaged to be married.


Firdaus’s teacher at secondary school. Iqbal joins Firdaus at the school playground one night, and they cry together.


The little boy from Firdaus’s childhood, with whom she used to play “bride and bridegroom.” This is the first time that Mohammadain and Firdaus experience sexual pleasure.

The Prison Doctor

The doctor at Firdaus’s prison. The doctor filled out an appeal for Firdaus (to commute her sentence from death to life imprisonment), but she refused to sign it.


Firdaus’s uncle’s servant girl.

Sharifa Salah el Dine

A high-class prostitute who takes Firdaus in and turns her into a prostitute. Sharifa makes a profit off of Firdaus’s body until Firdaus runs away.

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Sheikh Mahmoud

Firdaus’s husband for a brief period of time. Sheikh Mahmoud beats Firdaus and she flees to Bayoumi’s home.


Firdaus’s friend at school. Wafeya suspects that Firdaus is in love with Miss Iqbal.