Lel Qalb Marsa Akheer (The Heart Has a Final Port) by Rasha Samir, (Egyptian Lebanese Publishing House), 2020.
In her latest novel ‘The heart has a final port’ or ‘Lel Qalb Marsa Akheer’, Rasha Samir really chose her characters carefully. They are “la crème de la crème” type; those whom normal people read about in books and maybe get to meet by chance or see them from a far.
Samir was following in the footsteps of late writer Ihsan Abdel-Koddous, who was the main reference in the life of the Egyptian upper class. Her novel was unfortunately without the daring edge that Koddous possessed or the depth that he provided.
The main character is an ambassador’s wife, Nehad, a classy woman, loving of her husband and children, a beautiful representative of her country. Nehad was basically the lady that nearly everyone can love, appreciate and respect; someone proper with no mistakes. The author kept shedding the light on her history step-by-step showing us her transformation from a TV broadcaster to a diplomat’s wife, leaving her ambitions behind to be a ‘soldier’ in her husband’s army so that he can reach the highest positions in the diplomatic corps.
True enough he made as Egypt’s top representative in New York. The diplomat was portrayed as a reserved personality, concentrating on his career but with bad relation to his children. He fell for an extramarital affair with a promiscuous movie star who just happens to be a friend of his wife.
His angelical wife forgave but did not forget especially because the other woman kept making inappropriate comments whenever the three of them meet.
Another character is a genius Egyptian director who was able to make it big in Hollywood, despite his father’s refusal he took that step anyways; studied cinema and eventually won an Oscar for one of his movies. He was nick-named ‘the eye of the camera’ due to his exceptional cinematic scenes. In order to add some drama to the big star’s life the writer made him lose his eyesight and become an intolerable bitter person, resulting in him losing his family and losing his will to live.
There is also Miriam the Lebanese famous ballerina who with her talent and effort becomes an international star. She gets an abortion so that motherhood would not interfere with her career, she also gives up her love and marriage for her career and ends up living in New York after establishing a ballet school in Lebanon. Eventually, she ends up returning to her home country to supervise her baby “the ballet school”.
The rest of the characters are of the same caliber, movie stars; a humanitarian lady who gives up everything to live in Kenya to help the poor; and the wife of a successful businessman who immigrates with her husband to the US and stands by him only for him to then divorce her after losing his love for her. She actually ends up having different affairs to try and find love again.
The novel gives a glimpse into the elite’s life. It shows their lives, the luxury and the problems. It shows the duties of a diplomat’s wife, the cocktail parties and at the same time avoids getting into politics.
The main characters cross paths while in New York and their lives interconnect. Nehad manages to heal those she meets and helps them find their purpose in life or helps get them back on track to a happier life that they might have had one day.
At the same time, she describes the diplomatic life as fake and dull for a lady in her position, full of insincere smiles, false compliments and non-genuine relations. Most of the people are there because it is their job not due to their liking for that lifestyle.
What the writer was able to do with passion was describe the places that the novel took place in. From Hollywood in California to Vienna in Austria and of course New York with all its glory. The reader can see clear mental images of all these places. The writer either really did research on these places and their history or actually visited them and was able to transfer her experience into words for the reader’s benefit.
The little amount that she explained about the places might raise the reader’s curiosity to know more about them but the part that is relatively new for the Egyptian reader would be Nairobi in Kenya. A country relatively unknown to Egyptians, the political tribal structure that she briefly portrayed might be a source of interest for those wanting to know more about Africa.
The story of the Syrian soldier who ended up escaping the country and resided in California after escaping death every step of the way would probably be the only story that might be of interest for the reader. The writer touched the geopolitical problems of the Syrian conflict lightly but showed an understanding of how life under miserable conditions can look like.
The title chosen for this novel gives some sort of hope for its characters in that their hearts might find joy in spite of their harsh lives on this earth. A more suitable title would have been ‘The Ambassador’s Wife’. Afterall, she is the main character that guides everyone to a better life.
The novel itself can be classified under the “clean literature” category if such a thing exists. Most of the readers would not relate to or sympathize with the characters and their stories, only those belonging and who have similar lives would love this novel, but most of the readers would be just curious to see how these people live.