The Woman From Tantoura [Amazon | Book Depository]
Written by Radwa Ashour Translated by Kay Heikkinen
Published by Hoopoe (2019, first published 2010)
ISBN: 9774166159 (ISBN13: 9789774166150). Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.
Even before we moved here to the UAE, I am already familiar with literature coming from the Middle East – so much so that we have devoted an entire quarterly reading theme to it back in 2017 and in 2015. However, being here in Al Ain allows me to pair a book coming from Egypt with authentic Egyptian dishes like meat koshari and chicken kraft meshaltet which I have pictured in the image above.
The story is not about food, though, but about diaspora, displacement, and the keys next to one’s heart symbolizing the longing for home. The reader follows the journey of Ruqayya, who was only 13 when her village was taken over by Israeli soldiers. Ruqayya and the surviving members of her family – became refugees and forced to live away from the sea and trees of home.
It was initially difficult for me to get into the rhythm of Ruqayya’s initially-unwilling narration, and the often fragmented and meandering thoughts with a layer of wailing anguish on top of it. There was relentless despair brought about by unspeakable injustice – yet there were also moments of fleeting beauty, of wedding celebrations, of dancing, of joy in reunions – and a full life lived notwithstanding being forever exiled from one’s home through no fault of one’s own. The novel also hit closer to home when Ruqayya wrote about staying with her eldest son, who became a hugely successful architect in Abu Dhabi. Her feeling like an outsider, and difficulty in bonding with the Filipina maid who spoke very good English, and navigating sudden wealth in direct contrast to her family’s existence as refugees for so many long years – felt surreal, yet at the same time, true like gaping wounds are.
I had long conversations with my husband during the week that I was reading this novel – constantly updating him about my reflections of the book, where Ruqayya and her adopted daughter, Mariam are now in the book (the move to Alexandria was particularly idyllic). It helped me clarify some of my notions about this book that reads so much like a memoir. I knew I had to discuss it with someone – the unspeakable atrocities endured by Ruqayya need to be laid out in the light – for me to make meaning of senseless violence, and a world gone mad. This is an unforgettable novel. I urge you to read it.
#ReadIntl2020 Update: 34 (of target 30): Egypt.
Translated from Arabic.