Sign in using your account with
Dina Ghalwash: Diaries of an Egyptian Girl
The growing trend of Egyptian pseudo-feminist authors has brought mixed results in the past few years. The once novel style of combining formal writing with anecdotes, opinion, blogging, and diary entries has become a chick-lit genre of its own.The latest addition comes from Dina Ghalwash, who has thrown her two cents in with Diaries of an Egyptian Girl.
Published by Shabab Books, Ghalwash’s debut is made up of three short stories. The first one tells of a car trip gone wrong, and how the experience takes the author from loving Egypt to hating it, and then back to loving it even more than before. Having taken a wrong turn leaving Obour City, the author gets lost somewhere in an abyss in Cairo. Though you follow the story intently, by the end of it you realise the 50-page account of the five-hour ride is 45 pages too long, and potentially interesting strands are cut off to bring focus back to the pilgrimage of her trip.
The second story tells of Tara, a girl who quickly finds and loses love. Clichéd notions of the stoic but deeply sensitive lifelong love, misplaced tears and naivety delegitimize any message that is meant to be imparted from this tale of heartbreak. The tragically flawed characters are always the most interesting, but Tara has few redeemable characteristics.
The third story returns to the first-person perspective of the author, and starts with the same type of aplomb that may make the first story patronising to some. It opens with the author’s busy day; ‘I had so many errands that day that it all became a blur. I had to pick up some papers from school, get some passport photos taken of me and pickup a dress from the tailor’. Life is indeed tough. After an unpleasant encounter with a man after once again losing her bearings, Ghalwash goes on to address the mistakes of judging a book by its cover.
This is a piece of literature that offers no new view of life in Egypt, and so needs to at least offer some subjectivity, which it also fails to do. Ghalwash tries valiantly to portray herself as a symbol of a new cosmopolitan Egypt, but at times actually comes across as being out of touch. The circumstances and interactions that she has chronicled rarely occur outside her comfort zone, and in the instances that they do, they’re presented as a victim’s ‘me against the world’ dichotomy.
It’s obvious that this book has been written in good intention, but it fails to disclose any real catharsis from the stories told, and we gain no deeper knowledge of the author and her characters. Ghalwash is clearly a perceptive, eloquent and confident individual; characteristics that should have delivered much more in this novel.
Joseph Anton was Rushdie’s pseudonym when he went into hiding, so it makes for a good title for a memoir detailing that particular part of his life. So one would assume the book details mostly that: the fatwa, its consequences and the efforts undertaken to void it. Unfortunately, there is a lot of toffee-nosed non-information one has to wade through to get to the interesting stuff.
The book is littered with numerous unnecessary references to several of his ‘beloved’, ‘amazing’ and ‘great’ friends such as Harold Pinter, Susan Sontag and Martin Amis. A good two pages are wasted detailing a dinner party at the home of then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. It would be more interesting to know how the fatwa was annulled (spoiler alert: it never actually officially was), not how Rushdie’s son Milan spent at least half an hour sitting on Tony Blair’s lap and how jolly a time was had by all.