Flying Carpets is a short story collection from Egyptian born, Lebanese author/poet Hedy Habra. I had never heard of this author before and this collection was a chance find while recently browsing in a bookstore. It was the description - “A short story collection in the grand tradition of Arab storytelling” - that grabbed my attention. I’ve been interested in literature from the Middle East for quite some time now, after reading a fantastic book on the subject some ten years ago called The Experimental Arabic Novel. Arab fiction is sparsely translated into English, unfortunately, and only of the few “giants” of Arab/Middle Eastern literature happen to make their way into the English speaking world’s hands and that’s thanks to publishers like Interlink Books (who published this collection) and a few other independents out there who believe that literature from the Middle East should be disseminated more widely. (There’s also a great website called ArabLit for those interested in Arabic/Middle Eastern literature).
The stories contained in this collection are interesting reads. Highly literary, the prose style is rich, dense and colorful. 21 stories in total, broken up into 4 sections, each story set in either Egypt, where the author was born, or Lebanon, the country of the author’s nationality. Others lean more towards “magical realism”. The stories that stood out for me were 12 Rushdy Street, a young woman visits the house in which she grew up (after living in Paris for many years) and meets a young woman who aspires to move to Paris to study literature and discovers the parallels with her own life; Distances, in which a Lebanese Christian girl on summer holiday falls for a young Muslim boy, much to the objection of her mother; By Fire or Water - a young woman visits an old fortune teller to learn more about her beloved; Perspectives - an artist struggles with his work as well as his marriage and falls for a younger student in his art class, while his wife is pregnant with their second child; The Fisherman - a tale of jealousy and revenge; and Noor Al Qamar - a magical realist tale told from the perspective of a moon goddess.
The different stories fit together well in this collection (most of which had been published in various literary magazines) and it is more than “just” a collection of stories. They compliment one another, as a poetry collection would (and it’s no coincidence that Habra is also a poet) and there is an over arching theme that link these stories together. Over all, I enjoyed many of these stories (some are better than others) although I felt some were a tad overwritten (some descriptive passages were unnecessary, mainly there to showcase the author’s way with words rather than it being essential to the story), but that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of these stories and what message or themes they seek to convey. Definitely worth checking out.