Looking at the Longlist: ‘Toya,’ a ‘Disneyesque Fairy Tale’

Toya, by Ashraf al-Ashmawi, is one of the sixteen on this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) longlist.  

ashrafAl-Ashmawi is better-known as a long-time judge in the Egyptian court of appeals and a former examining magistrate in the department of the public prosecutor. He’s also been a legal adviser to the nation’s Ministry of Antiquities and authored a book on antiquities theft, Legitimate Robberiesalso published this year.

His popular previous novel, The Time of Hyenaswas nominated for the IPAF last year by his publisher, but it didn’t make the longlist.

ArabLit contributor Asmaa Abdallah writes in the Egypt Independent that Toya is a “feel-good” novel that “follows a Disneysque storyline, evoking with it all the morals, the good guys and bad guys, the adventures and humor, but also all the predictability that usually come with a fairy tale.”

The titular Toya is “a beautiful young girl whose femininity, softness, charm and integrity captivated Youssef at first sight. The reader is happy to see him fall for her spontaneity and sweetness after having witnessed his cold and calculated relationship with Katherine,” who is a cold British woman.

Abdallah adds that the novel doesn’t just separate warm women from cold (evil) types, but, “The binary model does not stop at good and evil but there is also the dichotomy between materialism and altruism, heart and mind, civilized and primitive. Characters and actions in the novel are easily classifiable into one or other of these categories.”

Although Abdallah’s description doesn’t sound very promising, she concludes that nonetheless, “Toya is a charming read. The predictability of the story does not detract from its enjoyability, with many important messages to communicate, exactly like a fairy tale.”