Nine Parts of Desire highlights the lives of nine women as they fight back against traditional expectations set in a rapidly changing political climate. The play is set during the US-Iraqi war, so the background of the stories of these women is suffering, death, prayer, uncertainty, violence, and political turmoil.
Layal was a famous painter before the war, painting nude portraits of women to empower them. She is known for her craft in Iraq, so she chooses to stay. Her high profile is dangerous, and she becomes imprisoned by Saddam’s family and repeatedly raped by his sons and his people. Her beauty, talent, and reputation saves her life for a short time, but she is forced into extreme sexual violence. Eventually, she is killed by American soldiers.
Amal begins the story as a married woman, until her husband’s infidelity drives her to find another man, all the way in Dubai. They talk on the phone daily, for an entire year, until she decides to travel to see him. Once he realizes what she looks like, he cuts off contact and never wishes to speak again. She is shamed by her family once they hear of the trip because they assume she had pre-marital sex with him. Amal’s goal was freedom and happiness, but each of her stories relied on men to make it come true. She was shamed and valued for nothing more than her body, so she was never free.
The Girl, given no name, is a survivor of extreme war violence. Telling the difference between the types of weapons detonated outside of her home is as easy for her as telling the difference between NSync songs. War is such a fundamental part of her upbringing that she is numb to it, and she barely flinches when she realizes her grandparents were killed. She mentions that her mother is afraid to leave the home, fearful of being stolen by a gang and sold while at the market. She wishes to be stolen so she can leave this country, not understanding the consequences of such an outcome.
The Doctor is an Iraqi American woman who traveled back to volunteer at a hospital. She describes the horrific birth defects caused by weapons of war and what it will mean for the Iraqi population. A healthy baby was almost unheard of. She speaks with anger, pain, and resentment as she grapples with the fate of the new generation of these children.
Each of these women, in different stages of life and privilege, describe a different perspective of what it is like to be a woman during a period of war and violence. Playwright Heather Raffo is commended for this work because of her accurate portrayal of the lives of real women during the Iraq War. Because these horrors are on foreign soil and mostly the fault of Americans, their stories are erased and not told enough, which is why playwrights like Raffo are essential in capturing the horrific events of the Iraq War.