Emraa fi Neoomet El-Harir (A Woman Soft as Silk) by El-Saeed Saleh (Arab Civilisation Centre), 2020
The story is about two women — a mother and a daughter. The type of women who face the harshness of life with strength and determination that makes life's problems seem like a ride in the park. Writer El-Saeed Saleh skillfully was able to gain the readers’ sympathy for his characters' cause.
In Emraa fi Neoomet El-Harir, or “A Woman Soft as Silk,” the writer is able to attract the reader with a story of a harsh mother that left her daughter at the age of three and looked for her 15 years later. The opening scene is the mother requesting that her daughter (now a professor of philosophy) come and visit her promptly. The daughter decides to visit the old woman in Alexandria, in spite of the bitter feelings she harbours and can not get rid of. When the two meet, the mother tells the daughter that she will die the next day. True enough, Hala El-Wardy, “Knowing God” Lady (a popular title given to holy people by their followers), dies at the time she specified, enhancing in the reader’s mind that she had clairvoyant abilities. The daughter us surprised by the number of people attending her mother’s funeral and the love she sees in the eyes of her mourners. Hala is buried vertically, as per her will, raising another question mark over the woman: why would she choose such an awkward burial position? It transpires she had a vision of the same while sitting by the sea.
The writer choses to tell us Hala’s story by way of flashbacks. The irresponsible mother, who daughter Fadwa despises, was loved and respected by many. Fadwa asked her mother many times since they found each other, “Why did you leave me?” The mother refuses to answer until she dies. The answer comes in her memoirs, left for her daughter to read posthumously. The writer keeps the answer a mystery for both the reader and the daughter up until the novel’s last chapter. The character described throughout the novel is not the type of woman who would abandon her daughter and vanish.
The most interesting part about Hala’s life is her clairvoyant ability. She saw in her dreams the death of her father, the defeat of 1967, saw Port Said getting destroyed by Israeli forces, President Nasser’s death, the victory of 1973 and many more events that allowed her and those close to her to avoid many miseries. She was able to predict many events on a personal level: problems at work, intuitions about matters related to public life, including the revolution of January 2011 and the Mohamed Morsi presidency.
Somehow the idea rooted in the movie “Back to the Future” is inserted into the novel. Hala used her talent in predicting the future for financial gain, but not with greed, or seeking after power and influence. Hala is attracted to everything that humans fight over in life, but with asceticism worthy of kind and good people. A hard equation that gives the impression that we are dealing with a female Gandhi while achieving position, fame, and financial security after the dire days she saw in her childhood and marriage. She works in a financial and stock market company. When she predicts that Bill Gates' retirement will decrease the value of Microsoft stocks, she sells all her client stocks before the announcement, saves them a lot of money and gets a huge financial gain. These kinds of predictions enhance her reputation as a great stock market expert.
Another appealing aspect in the novel is the city of Port Said. El-Saleh loves his city and in spite of moving the novel’s events between Cairo, Alexandria, Paris and London, Port Said remained in the novel’s core. Most of Port Said's population is proud of their city; the political and geographical history of the region gave its people their identity, their particular accent and music in addition to the landmark restaurants mentioned in the novel. Saleh managed to bring Mr Sami Howaidi into the novel, an international expert in Port Said history from digging the Suez Canal to the time of the British occupation, the cosmopolitan nature of the city and how it changed during the 1960s; then the city's destruction during the Six Days War and rebuilding it after 1975. Bringing a real living person into the events of the novel is a clear sign of nostalgia for old Port Said. Turning Port Said into a free zone changed the nature and the structure of its population — a sore point that the author mentions in a subtle way on various occasions. “The Port Said I know is gone,” is a quote that Mr Howaidi told Fadwa when she met him in her quest to know the reasons for her mother abandoning her.
The novel furnishes an example of angelical characters who do not make mistakes — the type that do not exist in real life.