Bahaa Abdelmegid: Saint Theresa and Sleeping with Strangers
First off, to eliminate any possible confusion, Saint
Theresa and Sleeping with Strangers are the titles of two separate short novels
in the same book by Bahaa Abdelmegid. Through the two stories,
Abdelmegid dives through Cairo
in its different eras, and its residents that apparently will always share the
The author’s idea and the message intended for the
first novel, Saint Theresa, can’t be missed once you’ve read the book’s
title. Saint Theresa is an old neighbourhood in Cairo that is packed with diversity and
contradictions, especially during the period that followed the 1967 war where the story is set.
Amon other subjects, the author sheds light on religious differences through the characters Budur and Sawsan,
who are childhood friends and neighbours. While they don’t share the same
religion, it doesn’t affect the friendship that binds them. The plot revolves
around them as the reader follows their emotional and intellectual growth until
they become mature women.
Saint Theresa develops a plot
of intriguing and exciting events, in which the numerous characters can be hard
to keep up with. The story follows a grandmother’s ghost and an enthusiastic young
Marxist among many characters. The Israeli Intelligence’s attempt to recruit Egyptian Jews while in formation adds an
exciting element to the narration.
The second novel, Sleeping with Strangers, takes
place in the late 90s.Basim is a womaniser whose prime hobby is to hang
around in Downtown Cairo and look for foreign women to meet in the hopes of
securing a way out of Egypt into a foreign country.
When he manages to marry an American, she helps him
get a green card and he becomes eager to realise the American dream. Instead,
he gets deported back to Egypt
with his wrists in handcuffs.
This leads to a long and tedious list of Basim’s wives
and girlfriends in Egypt,
with a detailed account of the time during which the relationships lasted. Aside
from this information, there is rarely a marked development in the characters.
Sleeping with Strangers is narrated by Basim’s
cousin Nader, who only recounts what Basim had to go through during and after
his stay in the US without referring to any details of his own life. However, as
the story goes on, Nader’s character is forced into the plot towards the end with
heavy details that should have been introduced beforehand. Nadir also decides
suddenly to refer to himself in the third-person tense in narration, which is
very confusing to the reader.
That being said, the author has produced a realistic
portrayal of the culture shock that Nadir faces when he travels to the US to visit his cousin, and Bassim’s culture
shock when he returns to Egypt
after years of living abroad. Abdelmegid’s eloquent writing style reveals aspects of the protagonists’
characters without having to shout them out.
Both Saint Theresa and Sleeping with
Strangers stand on their own with little in common. The characters in both novels may be related
by misery, but the style of writing and the general ambience is different in
each one. Look on the bright side; you will definitely appreciate one of the novels.