Book Review - The A Team.. Writing to depress the reader
El Magmooa Alef (“The A Team”) by Heba Ahmed Hassab – El Mahroussa Publishing House, 2019.
In what can be only described as a hateful novel, Heba Ahmed Hassab in her first novel “El Magmooaa Alef” or The A Team, managed to turn a good plot into a painful, torturous reading experience.
Writing in general shall have a purpose, writers and novelists in specific, gave up a long time ago the concept of writing for the reader because it became an accepted fact that it is not possible to satisfy all readers.
Hence writing became a personal activity that aims to satisfy the writer for a purpose that reveals itself throughout the novel. In this novel the satisfaction is not clear, the constant pain that the reader feels through the characters, the lack of the informative concept leads to an ambiguous novel that adds very little to the reader. The only goal that could be detected is the simple writing style that can attract the reader; unfortunately it is like a driving a car without a final destination in mind.
The story begins with the murder of Ismail, the leader of an intelligence unit in a safe house where the members live together in a military camp- like environment. The murder remains unsolved and the novel is written through the narration of the unit members. There was no specific narrator rather it was a collective novel where each unit member wrote his or her point of view regarding the various events, moving from one situation to the next leading to confusing the reader rather than clarifying the sequence of events. The writer chose to put the date and the name of the narrator on each chapter as a guide for the reader to follow the events but failed miserably into motivating the reader in turning back the pages to try to understand the relations between the various characters in the unit.
On the other hand, in the first half of the novel, the writer was able to capture the reader’s interest into the world of secret security apparatus where the unit was having a heavy training in how to gather information, getting the know-how of that mysterious world that normal people know about only through movies or novels and raise the expectation of the reader promising an informative, super hero like characters who will be doing missions uncovering plots against Egypt led by a capable leader who knows what he is doing and how he can extract the hidden talents of his recruits to achieve great goals.
Instead of that expected story line we find a sadistic, mentally ill leader who breaks the characters of the unit members, take away their dignity, their money for the collective expenses, causes them a constant state of fear, gives them trainings that seem to be tools for future assignments that never come. Examples of these activities are gathering information about anyone and anything without being noticed, changing names of the whole group into one name that they use in calling each other instead of their real names, changing the gender of one of the character from male to female as a punishment, seizing the house from one of the members and transforming it into the safe house of the unit, in addition to taking their money and salaries, using harsh language and physical abuse to get the whole group to submit to his will; all that while controlling their personal lives (marriages, divorces, affairs, jobs among others).
Ismail is the main character that everyone talks about in their diaries (something that they were specifically ordered not to do), his story is revealed since his poor childhood where he was mean to animals, to his neighbors, gathering information about them as if they were criminals, proposing to the prettiest girl in the village when she was ten years old while he was fourteen, becoming the laughing stock of the village, then going into the police academy and eventually getting fired as a corrupt police officer.
What we discover towards the end of the novel is that he had to undergo a psychological treatment and disappears from his previous life and his twisted mind led him to creating this imaginary unit that had no real purpose except exercising his cruelty and satisfy his obsessive need to show and practice power over others. Simply a classic example of a control freak who actually deserves to be murdered.
As a first novel the simple writing style is a positive point for the writer, the short chapters makes it an easy read but the sadistic environment of the novel is certainly transferred to the reader and we end up with a novel that puts any reader in a negative mood.