Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Gennia fi Qarora> Jennie in a bottle

‘Genniya fi Qarora’ or A Fairy in a Bottle is the title of the young novelist’s new novel published this month by Dar Ain. Ibrahim Farghali, one of the most distinguished names of the nineties generation, preserves in this novel his treat in past novels: The Cave of Butterflies 1998, and The Smiles of Saints 2004: this mixing of the legendary and the reality. The 119-page novel is a second installment of The Smiles of Saints. In this novel, Haneen, the heroine, the daughter of a Christian mother, Christine and a Moslem father Rami plays the man role. While the last novel deeply discusses the issue of toleration among different religions; the author here delves into Haneen’s personal life and also genuinely discusses the issue of identity.
The first word instantly offends the reader ‘A whore, no I am not a Whore,..’ Haneen mutters while trying to figure out to which culture she belongs. She maintains this ambiguous feeling that she is Egyptian thanks to her Egyptian parents, but as she was born and raised in France, she only recognizes her self as a French Woman.

Well, this is not the only theme here, we have many visions of Jennies and Fairies: Patrick, one of her many lovers, appears in a form of a Jenni during the sexual practice as he ‘puts together his extraordinary energy to go out of the bottle, burned in his own lust’. In another spot, coming out of the bottle is synonymous to find love, or the lover who will rescue and liberate Haneen.And then the religion issue has surfaced once again: this time when Haneen falls in love with David (who appeared faintly in the previous novel), a religious Jewish young man who was also raised in France, but decided to settle in Israel, so that his faith would be completed : a kind of naive stereotypical relationship that is only used to maintain the rejection of integration between Arabs and Israelis. But, as Farghali defends, “it only reflects chaos that controls her sexual life.

”The abnormal sexual life she leads, proved by her involvement in group sex nights, raises the question of adultery, in a wicked attempt to grant it a legitimate face in the name of women liberty, and control on her body. Haneen simply describes herself as a whore, a destiny that she could not escape from. A captivating scene that utilized this theme artistically is when Haneen imagines that she stripped off her clothes along with her girl friend Nataly, who is also now naked, and both girls are engaged in a theatrical performance before confused, indiscriminate audience.

For those who have not read the first novel, the author created this link between the two novels: the voice of Emad, Rami’s best friend, who has the autobiographical notes of his intimate friend (it is completely unclear when or where Rami has died). Emad is also there to represent the invisible world with its fascinating secrecy and imaginary feelings and thoughts. When Haneen comes back to Egypt in scholarly visit, Emad’s spirit reappears to guide her to the way to her mother, who disappeared surprisingly somewhere in Egypt after she gave birth to her only baby. However, the second part of the novel hosts a theoretical, metaphysical monologue by Emad, revealing his existence now in a more progressive world based on the sublime value of knowledge. A mere journey in time, this amazingly unfolded puzzle.

This very part slows down the vivid, brilliant, animated, coherent narration of Haneen’s accounts of her sexual relations, experiences in Paris, and her quest for the truth about her mother. But it seems, as Farghali believes, this theoretical approach is everywhere in the novel.

It is there when Haneen discusses the theme of the fairy imprisoned in a bottle, and simply expresses her wish that people live in buildings made of glass, that entails the maximum degree of transparency; a way that would have enabled her to find her lost mother. “And it is also a way to impede the flow of narration, in an attempt to make this hard-to-create mix between theory and fiction,” says Farghali in amazement. “It is language that is targeted here,” Farghali figured out. “What I am trying to do is to develop a new language that combines the imaginative, the oddity with the realistic tones.”But where do all this odd world made of Jennies, fairy tales and spirit of dead people come from? “It is all related to my early childhood that I spent in Oman, where the local culture is deeply involved in witchcraft, and magic stories that is related to phantoms found in deserts -that make up most of the geography of the city-and it was so common that people talk about their sudden encounter of a man walking on the legs of a goat, simply as they cross the street,” he recalls

In the second section of the novel, Haneen returns back to Egypt to pursue a PHd study on the norms of sexual relationships in the Egyptian society. While she looks from the window of her hotel room, she is astonished by the increasing number of vieled women on the street, and wonders if they make love with their lovers, or they are still virgin. This scholastic research helps her to understand or better see her country differently, totally different than that common stereotypical version in the western media.

His treat has perfectly emulated , as he puts it, the ‘fashion of magic realism literature that prevailed in the nineties’, but the question is does this trend still have the potential to survive, and till when? And back to the first section of the novel, which is subdivided into 7 parts, each is ended by a puzzling question raised by Haneen.

Is this intended suggestions of questions rather than answers play an artistic role, or does it reflect the social role of the author in his society? “They are mere questions that suggest in a sense certain themes, but they initially are an essential part of Haneen quest for her own identity.” Though she appears as a western, liberal woman, her attitudes, thoughts are too contradictory, duplicating, “just as the case with the majority of middle class in Egypt.

By Tarek Barey >>in Read Me”

1 comment:

barbara said...

I am not a literary critic, just a translator from arabic into Italian, but I am a great eater of novels, if we may say so, so when I read a novel I do not consider it an Arabic or an English or an Italian novel etc., I just see it as a piece of art.
The accuses that lately have been raised to the particular subject of sex in some recent arabic novels are very silly, cause the readers, and also the critics, are so much involved in analising the sexual images that they completely forget the overall effort made by the author in constructing his novel, sorry, his piece of art. It is a pity, cause both “Ibtisamat al qiddisiin” and “Ginniya fi-l qarura” are really two novels of, as Edward Said would put it, their time. I think that when Said says in his “Culture and Imperialism” that a novel is a way to understand the political economical and cultural environment in which it is born, he is very right. It is true too that a part of the Egyptian society faces different daily problems than the ones faced by Haniin or Christine and Rami, but we can not neglect that a big slice of the society is living them, the fact that the two parts do not communicate with each other, is another matter, let’s leave it to the sociologists!
When with my Egyptian students of the Italian Cultural Center I discuss about a best seller like “Omarat el Yaqoubian”, 70% of the class says “It is not realistic! we are not like that! Al Aswany is writing something for you” meaning with this “you” Europians or Americans. So let’s consider their comments: we may say that a 30% of the Egyptian society is living in a world of its own, we are not here to judge why, but just to assume it cause it exists. Let’s put it in another way, when Mario Puzo wrote his novels about the “Godfather”, as Italians we should have said “It is not realistic, we are not like that...”, which is behaving like the ostrich, burying its head under the sand.
Intellectuals all over the world have started playing a very useless role which is criticizing each others, at the expences of criticizing the world we are living in, so I believe it’s the few enlighted writers’ due to continue writing about what they see and what they feel it is an important topic in their society, but we should say in “the” society, or aren’t we living in a globalized world?
What is very funny for me is observing the changes that are currently happening in the Egyptian society, which are very similar to the ones that the Italian society went through after the “American Liberation” and the entrance of chocolate bar in our destroyed and loser post Second World War poor country. Even reading Orhan Pamuk’s “Istanbul” makes you feel the same way: willing it or not, we had to change, we had to become modern - or shall we say “western”?
Why did I say funny? Cause the above mentioned 70% wants to completely neglect that modernization is entering their lives, and they consider only it’s tecnological aspect expecting to be allowed to reject the changes in manner and costumes that it is bringing with.
The fact that the Italian society became modern thanks to the American subsides for building a fence against the Varsavia Pact countries, does not have to make us forget – although we unfortunately always do – that this implied a great change in the Italian traditional society: mini skirts, bikini, the so to speak “liberation of woman” – but are we really free? But this is another matter, that “Ginniya fi-l qarura” explains better than me.
I’ll be waiting to read “What happended to Christine” in the third part... of your trilogy...