Contemporary fiction from Egypt. Hala El Badry has written a very intriguing novel, which at its core is a love story, but between the lines a critical look at the role of women in contemporary Egyptian society.
Nahid is a forty-something archeologist is trapped - by choice - in a loveless marriage to Mustafa. She falls in love with a novelist/journalist Omar, who himself feels trapped in his own loveless - but not sexless - marriage. The two begin an affair. Omar brings about in Nahid a sexual awakening, one she kept suppressed due to the norms of society and culture. She yearns to break free from it, to confront her questions about love and intimacy in a severely repressive and male dominated society but her self-imposed taboos won’t allow her to find total fulfillment.
The novel is very well written, the prose style rich, poetic and its narrative structure isn’t limited to Nahid’s point of view. We get Omar’s, Nahid’s husband Mustafa’s, as well as Omar’s wife Maggie’s - at times the point of view switching from first, to third and even second person all within the same chapter so a close reading is essential. However, once you get used to this narrative experimentation it becomes a very rewarding reading experience.
The novel also addresses social and political issues, based on the main protagonists’s professions. We get a glimpse of modern Egyptian life and how social norms and political considerations can often interfere with being free to study, learn and even create. But ultimately the focus here is on love, intimacy and sex in a society where such things aren’t openly discussed. The novel questions more than it answers but considering the social climate in which it was written, it is certainly brave and creative.