Book Review: Seven Thirty Wednesday Evening

Date posted: January 28, 2009


Seven Thirty Wednesday Evening
السابعة و النصف مساء الأربعاء
Writer, blogger, and friend Nermeen Edrees sent me a copy of السابعة و النصف مساء الأربعاء more than two months ago and I promised to read it and to tell her what I thought of it honestly. I am not a slow reader; in a couple of days I finished most of the book then I faced a slight problem when I reached Nermeen Edrees's story – how do I put aside our relationship as bloggers, as authors in Global Voices Online, and as friends? How do I forget that Nermeen supported my book and that I was the first guest in her book club? I decided to read her part several times to make sure that whatever I thought of it was objective and totally unbiased – and I did.
السابعة و النصف مساء الأربعاء is a collection of short stories by 8 writers, edited by Yasser Abdel Latif and published by Al Kotob Khan. In the introduction of the book, Yasser Abdel Latif explains how Al Kotob Khan announced a writing workshop and how many people joined. The chosen theme for the first draft was the quiet suburb of Maadi; the writers needed to integrate that theme into their first draft. Due to time constraints, schedules, distance, and personal reasons many of the writers dropped out of the workshop. Yasser's introduction clearly shows that there was a lot of effort, tweaking, and fine tuning of the writers and their literary style.
The Alien
رف مرتفع قليلا عن الذاكرة or "A shelf slightly positioned above memory" is the first story by Ibrahim El Sayed. The first thing that I noticed was that the Maadi theme was forced upon the story; it was redundant and was not tightly woven within the plot. The second thing that I felt was distance, although in his introduction, Yasser explained that the writers at the end of the workshop were guided towards sharing and revealing parts of themselves as though they were confessing or exposing a secret, I felt nothing of the sort reading Ibrahim's story. Nothing touched me .. nothing moved me .. and nothing stayed in my memory. As a writer, he has got style and great narration skills. He has imagination but the story did not do him any favors. He shied away from his reader and his reader shied away from him.
The Woman
حرير و شوك or "Silk and thorns" is the second story by Amira Abu Taleb. Her words throb with life; she is very sensory; everything she wrote is colored, scented, and textured. Lilac scented. Shades of purple. Mystical feel. Feminine voice. Her story has rhythm and I felt it. Her transitions are smooth and her descriptions are vivid. I lived her story, I was tired, exhausted thrilled, happy, warm, dreamy, cold, disappointed, and hopeful. She is accessible like a memory of your own yet she manages to surprise you by how the events of her story unfold. Amira bared her soul and it was the soul of a full blown woman who has the wisdom of life and the passion of a little girl. I wished her story was longer. I did not want to leave her life.
The Philosopher
قرارات الانتماء or "Belonging Decisions" is the third story by Hossam Khalaf. Yasser mentioned in the introduction that most writers fall in love with their story and they lose their ability to edit or delete repetitive or unnecessary parts. I think this is the main problem with this story … too many details … too many details you did not need to know … too many details that do not serve the events of the story or the development of the characters. The story itself is about the dilemma of existence, love, and settling down but the narration went from interesting to boring to dull and fell flat. I fully identified with the busy schedule and the deadlines that were the recurrent theme in the story.
The Best Man
صديقى الذى قال or "My friend who said" is the fourth story by Khaled Rabie. I loved it. I loved it. The guy is brilliant. I have never met him but I felt that I knew him. I felt that I sat with him in that cafe where he used to meet his friend. I ate with him. I even watched him smoke up. I stood on the sideway that separated uptown Cairo and poor defeated Cairo and watched him talk to his friend, Like Amira Abu Taleb, Khaled mastered sensory descriptions but his flavors and scents had nothing to do with lilacs and offices … his words smelt of the streets .. of real people .. people that most of us would rather not meet. I felt that I drove him to the airport when he left Egypt, that I cried when his plane took off, and that I was there when he came back. This story is the story of his friend … we know the story from his letter … I wish I could quote the letter … The letter embodies the magic of love … my heart skipped a few beats reading the letter from Khaled's memory. This is a story that evokes every sense of nostalgia you might have. When I reached the end of it … I was sad .. I missed a friend.
The Sensitive One
العمر كأنه مؤجل or "Life as it were on hold" is the fifth story by Dina El Hawary. Dina sponged on the experiences of everyone she has encountered in her life and this reflected on the richness of her characters. She is the girl who never had a home and learnt at an early age that her true home is her soul. Dina's story is the story of a lot of people … it is the story of those who watch life pass them by. They see, they think, they dream but they neither react to nor interact with life. How many times did you wish to reply to someone but instead of speaking your mind, you silently replied at the back of your mind. All those unspoken words and unheard conversations … are always at the background of Dina's story. As a reader, you read the story and hear the things that should have been … like a subtitled movie. Courage, home, and rebellion lurk at the background all the time as opposed to passiveness, fear and submission that are always in the foreground. The backbone of the story is how she left Egypt with her family to the gulf, how she came back, and how she never managed to adapt.
The Magician
بعد فوات الوقت or "When it was too late" is the sixth story by Samar Ahmed. What I liked most about this book is the diversity of the writers, their experiences, and their styles. It is not easy to surprise me but Samar totally caught me off guard with her story. I enjoyed every bit of it and loved the sudden twist at the end. The theme of this story is perception and how tricky perception could be. This is the story of the two sides of the same coin and Samar perfectly painted the picture of a woman who is married to a man she never loved with all its details … I loved her details … and depth. Through out the story the man is silent .. passive .. always in third person … until the last few lines … he finally spoke. When I turned the last page I was still eager for more.
The Dreamer
الشرفة or "The Balcony" is the seventh story by Abeer Medhat Amin. Abeer crosses the line between fact and fiction with poise, grace, and elegance. I read her story three times trying to figure out what was real and what was not …. I failed. She talked of a lover who turned out to be an imaginary friend. She talked of dreams, friends, memories, and events that were left behind. Abeer is a master at keeping you guessing. Her subplots are incomplete but it never bothers you as a reader; there is always room for your imagination to fill in the gaps without feeling that the writer tricked you. 
The Young Soul
و قرر الارنب ان يستريح or "And the rabbit decided to rest" is the eighth and last story by Nermeen Edrees. This is the story of a little girl written by a mature woman who will always be young at heart. As I read this story, I clearly touched the girl's sense of adventure, her need for perfection, her quest to find the truth, her peace of mind amidst the turmoil of her heart, and her cheerful disposition. Alice in wonderland made subtle appearances in the story dressed up as Nermeen herself. Her eagerness to explore more of life exhausted the rabbit … who had to rest. Nermeen started off with cold winter nights then moved on to loneliness that accentuates the cold until finally warmth creeps onto you in that warm bed underneath the cover where you are safe and secure from the outside world. I loved her style, how she hopped like a bunny from one theme to the other without disrupting the balance or the rhythm of the story. There were moments when I felt that she was quoting unspoken lines from my head.

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