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Amy Mowafi: Fe-Mail 2
Entrepreneur, socialite, TV personality, wife, mother, daughter, sister; life is tough for Amy 'Superwoman' Mowafi. Fe-Mail 2 comes as the second release of Mowafi's amalgamated collection of columns for Enigma magazine, which have acted as a cathartic public diary of sorts, as she reflects on love, marriage, motherhood and other equally scary adult subjects.
Following its release, Fe-Mail 1 was heralded as the Middle East's answer to Sex and the City; a comparison that should be as worrying to Mowafi as it is inaccurate.
Unlike is the case with Carrie and friends, there are no shallow dramatics in Fe-Mail 2. Mowafi hasn't deluded herself with the type of personal feelings of grandeur that drive Sex and the City. Instead, she questions some very universal subjects head-on. The degree to which her tales resonate with you is another issue all together, but even male readers will almost certainly find themselves nodding in agreeable fashion; whether it be down to a quip from beau-turned-husband, 'the Boy', or a Mowafi epiphany.
Unfortunately, as can be the case with this type of publication, the chapters often feel distanced from each other and the transition from magazine to book isn't always successful.
However, the advantage of pulling her articles together, each of which is contemporaneous to its context, is that everything feels so present. The chapters may be somewhat disjointed, but any and all continuity is owed to Mowafi's spirit and intangible essence – which occasionally jump off of the page to give you a swift backhand.
There's an enjoyable ambiguity with Mowafi's instinctive writing; one which makes you want to read more. From a storytelling perspective, though, Mowafi is a victim of her own unpretentious outlook on life. Despite a few hairy moments, the overriding arc of Mowafi's gradual march to wifehood isn't the car-crash one would demand of a power-house businesswoman and socialite. But that's ok, because this is actually where the strengths of Fe-Mail 2 lay. This is no self-help book; Mowafi isn't trying to make the world a better place and she manages to avoid preaching, maintaining a sincere tone throughout.
Any form of art and literature is often perceived to be best when its receiver can relate to it; this is a highly simplified take on cultural consumption and a book like Fe-Mail 2 proves as such. There's a pleasing balance of familiarity and phantasm in Mowafi's writing that pulls you into her view of the world without shoving it down your throat; she just writes.
A simple online search would give you a chronological account of the Egyptian revolution; accurate dates, death tolls and perhaps even the names of the martyrs. But it will not tell you how it made the Egyptian people feel. Statistics can't describe what the families of the martyrs went through and it cannot accurately express the weight placed on the hearts of millions of Egyptians during this time.
Soueif doesn't ignore the violence perpetrated by the regime against protestors; she also mentions those who have lost their lives. She has kept in mind that by the time readers received her book a lot would have changed, so she frequently refers to the fact that we – her readers – would know more about the current situation than she did while writing it.
As she walks down every street, she supplements her story with memories and anecdotes from her childhood and adolescence, adding an emotional and personal dimension to her book and making it easy for readers to imagine why she is still attached to Cairo despite her long years in London.
The book is a refreshing spin on a now-over-a-year-old revolution. It brings hope. Soueif's sharp senses have led her to assume that by the time the book hits bookshelves, hope would still be the number one motivation and that's how she writes; invoking hope and persistence in the hearts of her readers.
Behind every successful man stands a great woman – or so the saying goes. Too bad we rarely get to see or hear anything about those women. Lily Koppel’s The Astronaut Wives Club aims to change that by telling the story of the wives of active NASA between 1959 and 1972.
With all eyes on the man going into space, one can’t help but wonder what it must be like for his significant other waiting for his safe return home. “If not for the wives.” Koppel notes in the first chapter, “man might never have walked on the moon.”
While this statement is true, the writer still paints a pretty sad and one-dimensional portrait of the majority of these women. They come across as airheads; quibbling about smoking in cars, concerned with what colour lipstick to wear when photographed for the cover of Time magazine, and wondering whether or not they will get to meet Jacky Kennedy.
The emphasis is on them being good housewives; setting everything aside in honour of their husband’s career and working jobs to get him through university, whilst foregoing their own education. Whatever emotional insight one hopes to find in the lives of these women is limited to whatever they told the press at the time. Judging from the epilogue, Koppel interviewed many of them personally and must have accumulated a treasure trove of insightful quotes. Curiously, almost none of that material made it into the book.
Without taking a feminist stance, this book is nothing short of ridiculous. It is understood that this is how women were viewed in 50s and 60s America, but that is no reason to keep that stereotype intact fifty years later. If the goal of this book is to make readers feel sorry for these ‘astrowives’, then that mission has been accomplished with honours.
To be fair though, the astronauts themselves aren’t portrayed too favourably either; they are mostly characterised as reprehensible men that cheat on their wives and compete with each other in testosterone-filled petty contests.
Aside from the misogyny, the book has several other issues. Initially, there are seven astrowives, later followed by another nine, and then fourteen more, making it rather difficult to keep up with who is who.
On top of that, Koppel is curiously brief about the most important one of them all – Neil Armstrong – and completely ignores his significant other. The first man on the moon is barely mentioned and his wife is not even named, even though the Apollo 11 mission is discussed in the book. To make it all that much stranger, Janet Armstrong does pop up in a few shots in the picture section of the book.
There is a website to go with the book, www.astronautwivesclub.com, but unsurprisingly, it is also remarkably shallow, providing little-to-no extra information on either the book or its characters.