When the list of IPAF (or “Arabic Booker”) nominees was released Dec. 15, several reporters noted that “Mansoura Ez-eldin is the only female nominee.”
This is certainly true–and it’s something that distinguishes her among the list of Arabic names–but it hardly helps give a picture of her writing. (We can also note that the Western press can sometimes be obsessed by the idea of the “Arab female”; there have been some truly histrionic headlines about Cairo’s sexual-harassment conference. Yes, I have been sexually harassed in Egypt–and in the U.S. Yes, I still leave my home, for goodness sakes.)
Anyhow, I picked up Mansoura Ez-Eldin’s Maryam’s Maze because my friend Mai (I’ll paraphrase here) told me, “She’s full of melancholy, just like you are!” Maryam’s Maze was published by AUC Press in English in 2007. It is, as you’d expect, an attempt to escape, to connect, and to find something in a tangled Cairo (sur)reality. The book is particularly interested in inner lives, most especially of women. It has some particularly lucid moments, and is highly recommended by a Banipal reviewer here.
You can also read a profile of Ez-Eldin from Qantara, and a short blog entry of hers on literarytranslation.com.
Ez-Eldin currently works as Reviews Editor of the weekly Akhbar al-Adab [Literary News], and seems to have become the “cute face” of the shortlist, her photo appearing with several articles.
What’s Ez-Eldin’s nominated book about?
Mansoura Ez Eldin engages with Egypt’s rural middle class through the character of Salma. The editor of a literary magazine, Salma is trying to dispose of her negative self-image by liberating herself from a past loaded with painful memories. The process encourages her to write a novel in which she tells her family history: a history of love, a history of the body, a history of movement across the social classes within her village, a history of madness, and a history of writing. Through this process Salma’s identity is split into two. On the one hand she observes and narrates in the present, whilst on the other she delves frantically into the hidden depths of her memory
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