Leila Slimani was in her native Morocco promoting her novel Adèle, about a woman addicted to sex, when she began meeting women who confided the dark secrets of their sexual lives. In Morocco, adultery, abortion, homosexuality, prostitution, and sex outside of marriage are all punishable by law, and women have only two choices: They can be wives or virgins. Sex and Lies combines women's testimonies with Slimani's commentary to make a galvanizing case for a sexual revolution in the Arab world.
...Slimani returns to Morocco for an intimate non-fiction examination of that country’s sexual mores. In a series of revealing and often enraging interviews, she speaks to women from all walks of life about sex. Some of her interlocutors prefer to remain anonymous, while others live openly and in defiance of the strict policing of their private lives ... The issue is not about morality but about politics, she insists. If we believe in individual liberty, the struggle against sexual oppression is of primary importance. As long as a woman’s body is still controlled by society, as long as her virtue is a public matter...she cannot be independent of the patriarchy. Slimani scorns the French intellectuals who accuse her of 'opportunistic Islamophobia' or of peddling Orientalist stereotypes. In this short, powerful book, superbly translated by Sophie Lewis, she has written a stirring call to arms for Moroccan women to experience what she has fought for herself: 'the right to think for oneself”, what she calls 'the most monumental taboo of all'.
LeÏla Slimani’s novels are described in France as 'livres chocs', meaning books that scandalise. She ventures into dark corners of the psyche, describing base impulses that many are ashamed to even think about ... Sex and Lies tells the stories of 14 of these women and two men, from a range of backgrounds. Slimani, a former journalist, reports their words directly — they need no embellishment. As an account of sex lives, it is as revealing as American journalist Lisa Taddeo’s bestseller Three Women, but it has a more urgent political mission ... Sex and Lies tells devastating stories in a spare style, but it’s not all bleak — Slimani is too clever and nuanced for that. It’s a positive sign that the people she speaks to refuse to be cowed by the repressive regime ... There is a quiet revolution under way where behind closed doors people are having sex with whoever they want ... Like Adèle did before it, this slim pink book of impassioned pleas, and of human impulses that resonate, is one step to more women breaking free.
These women are not victims and Slimani is careful not to portray them as such ... Sexual taboos can be more challenging to write about than political ones ... Unfortunately, in a world full of xenophobia, racism and sweeping generalisations about the Other, it is becoming harder and harder to have nuanced conversations. But this is exactly why we need to have open debates. Gender inequality and sexual subordination are not side issues. They are at the heart of everything. We must confront this taboo, this injustice and inequality, that affects the lives of people – men and women – in so many untold ways. For that I salute Leïla Slimani for writing this important, honest and brave book.