Sign in using your account with
May Taher: When The Honeymoon is Over
With a slew of
young, Egyptian female authors publishing their works of fiction in the last two years,
May Taher is the latest to debut on the local market with When the Honeymoon is Over; a collection of sixteen short stories
about Egyptian couples and the tumultuous nature of relationships.
The collection covers the same old stories you’ve probably heard about: the husband who cheats, the successful single woman who returns to Egypt to get married (she’s in her early thirties-the horror!), the recently divorced single mother trying to date again, the wife who’s had enough of her overbearing mother-in-law and slob of a husband... It’s the familiarity of the characters and their stories that will help this book appeal to a large Egyptian audience, especially young women in relationships.
Though these stories could easily happen to someone you know, they lack the depth and realism to make them believable. The characters seem two-dimensional, especially the males who mostly range between the self-absorbed husband, the cheating husband, the amorous lover and the slob of a husband, among others. In comparison, the women mostly seem to be driven, independent, strong-willed and emotional. The stories seem mostly in favour of the female characters.
Some stories are so ridiculous; they are funny, such as the frizzy-haired wife who discovers Keratin, and that helps her reignite her bedroom antics with her husband, while other stories seem borderline ludicrous, such as the mother-of-two who sleeps with an American at a wedding and he convinces her to move to LA with him.
Though the author is careful to throw in Cairene references like Tivoli and Harris Café, the characters seem to live in another world, one where kisses can casually be shared in cars, wives can easily sleep with
strangers in Sharm El Sheikh, and turbulent domestic disputes can easily be resolved with a witty one-liner.
The characters’ emotions lack substance, and the author fails to explore certain characters' moral ambiguity or tap into the complexity of Egyptian society today, where fear of societal repercussion still prevails.
That being said, credit should be given to the author for avoiding blatant anti-male shtick or preaching against relationships, unlike many of her contemporaries. What Taher does preach, however, is the need to fight for love, a message that is printed in her introduction as well as on the back cover.
Taher’s stories read like fairytales: they lack realism, the characters are either villains or heroes, the dialogues seem contrived and conflicts are resolved far too easily. While it’s good to believe in love, the stories she uses to back up her belief may leave some exasperatedly throwing up their hands in the air and yelling ‘Oh, come on!’
While the author’s writing quality may be considered high on Egyptian standards; it is comparatively poor in the Western publishing hemisphere; judging by errors and poor language style in several parts of the novel. That being said, the book is a commendable debut effort by the author that will hopefully mature and develop in the future.
Detective Bosch has a lot going on in his personal front as well; his fifteen-year-old daughter who is way too mature for her age and wants to grow up to be a police officer is his main support system at home, and a budding romance between Bosch and a social worker adds a tinge of romance to Bosch's life.
The novel is left open-ended, in a way that allows the characters to seem more real as if their lives will continue beyond the pages of the novel.
Born and raised in Texas, Gretchen McCullough's teaching career has taken her to Egypt, Turkey and Japan; currently, McCullough teaches writing in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo.
Released earlier this year, her latest publication is titled ‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’; a compilation of short stories revolving around a host of eccentric individuals and their experiences in Cairo. A large bulk of the stories are driven by the thoughts rummaging through the characters minds and, more often than not, they transpire to be both charming and relatable.
‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’ has a colourful team of characters with strong presence, charisma and an air of familiarity. Digging deeper into their personal lives and problems, her writing style is distinct, bringing an American charm and non-linearity to her stories, which builds a pleasant intricacy.
With many of the characters connected by a single building in Garden City, McCullough allots the main characters in her stories as small cameos in others, spreading the characters' presence and allowing for further development.
In ‘A Little Honey and a Little Sunlight’, we are given insight into the raging nature of Professor Gary by his dying neighbour, Joe Pulaski - a poet - reminiscing his days spent living in Cairo. Many pages later in ‘Pure Water’, we find ourselves reading from the eyes of Dr Gary as he spends time with his bulky Greek friend, Kolombos, in a mental asylum before the uprising of January 25th. The title story, meanwhile, sees two main protagonists; journalist and teacher, Mary Beth Somers, and her dentist, Dr Samy. Far from sappy, the two fall into a love which avoids the overt romantic notions seen in cliched literature, despite ending on a melancholic note.
Aside from the characters, Cairo as a city is portrayed as an integral player in the stories. On regular occasions, vivid descriptions of popular places in the city are given, such as El Horreya, Windsor Bar, the Gezirah Club and Koshari Abou Tarek. Having visited all these places ourselves, it's obvious that McCullough has immersed herself in the city, and amongst its people, well beyond the point of a touristic escapade. She’s become a sort of semi-native, in touch with Cairene culture, but maintains enough outside insight to give a new perspective to those who’ve been living in the city for too long.
With its mix of emotions and interesting character troupe, ‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’ promises an entertaining, comforting read for both locals and foreigners alike.