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Saturday, 17 February 2018

Book Review - A Girl in a Bag: a woman’s scream

Ossama Lotfy Fateem, Tuesday 13 Feb 2018
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A Girl in a Bag by: Heba Helmi
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When a painter writes, it feels like a mosaic trying to form a big painting, especially when the painter decides to free herself from the known forms of writing. Heba Helmi wrote scripts. “I was approached by the readers and the critics on what exactly scripts mean," she said. "It was simply my way of expressing myself; some critics considered it a novel.”

“A Girl in a Bag” was published a few months ago by Dar El-Ain. It contains sixty-three chapters, or scripts, describing the life of a girl growing up. In a daring book that can be classified as feminist writing, the author depends on memories toyed with by both imagination and time. She shows the social changes that occur in the life of a young girl raised between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. She uses the flash forward and flash backward techniques to engage the reader in forming the heroine’s life.

From recalling her chauvinist father, her love for him realizing her passion to satisfy her deep wish to be crushed by a dominant male figure, she reached the old female way of control: to be weak. From her daughter’s first bra, passing by the passion of sex and its joy, making love as if its the last time (every time) to her lesbian experience and being touched inappropriately as a child by an older man only to to give up the idea of suicide when she gives birth to her daughter -- Heba Helmi puts under the microscope everything that not discussed openly in our society.

Following the same lines of telling the unspoken, the writer reminds us of an old story about the beheading a Saudi princess in the 1980s. She summarizes the princess’s story: she fell in love with a non-royal man while still married to her cousin in a forced marriage following the royal tradition. In her attempt to flee Saudi Arabia she is caught and eventually stoned for adultery. The writer’s analysis is that the princess was punished due to her intransigence, not her decadence. She refuses the traditions, decides to do what she wanted, and rejected the concept of discretion that could have been a solution and the price of her life.

The eternal fight over power between mother and daughter is discussed in depth: society oppresses woman, woman oppresses daughter, daughter rebels and eventually gains her freedom and forms her social and political conscience and class awareness.

The delayed love story is described beautifully in one of the chapters. A love story between two students in the medical school, it does not continue and each of them marry someone else. Eventually both separate from these wrong partners and find each other twenty years later -- then their real life begins. It is a common story, the lost love that can be reached again. The writer does not proceed with the events of that story, she leaves hope hanging in the air. A possible happy life for two people who suffered from failed relations.

The betrayed revolution is an symbol used by the writer -- the reader can taste the bitterness of its defeat. The heroine was a part of the January 2011 revolution and was loving her part in it, from participating in the marches to documenting the cheers and describing the main events joyfully. The political part was not her main concern, but the social one was. She mentions that many women took their veils off after the revolution, others took the daring step of divorcing their husbands and many simply gained their free will to face a society controlled by men.

The book can be seen as a narcissistic experience but in reality it is anything but that. It is a woman’s attempt to reconcile with herself and her self with the society. She is simply trying to make her voice heard -- and read.

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