Book Review: Life In the Midst of War

Ossama Lotfy Fateem , Friday 2 Apr 2021

The eye-opening solution is a wakeup call for those in power in the Arab world; do you want your people to simply leave?

book cover

Sayedat Aylool (September Lady) Ahmed Ziad Mohafza (Amman: Fadaat Publishing House) 2020.

Creating a mystic persona is a tough mission for any novelist, yet Jordanian writer Ziad Ahmed Mohafza was able to do that smoothly and skillfully in his latest novel ‘Sayedat Aylool’ or September Lady. He created Salwa, a woman whose destiny was related to all the miserable events that occurred in Jordan and Syria in the past fifty years. The novel started with her at the age of eighteen, a descendent of an upright family, escaping her father’s house in Arbed to the city of Zarqa in Jordan to marry the man she loves, a daring act that almost never happens in conservative Arab societies. The timing of this bold move was in 1970.    

For any Arab reader, once the word “Aylool” appears anywhere, “Black September” or the Aylool Al-Aswad events come to mind; it was the historical armed clash between the Jordanian Army and the Palestinian armed factions and ended up in a lot of spilled blood between brothers. The novel is some sort of chronicle for the misery that this area has seen since 1970 until now; the novelist presented these events through the timeline of Salwa’s life.

The love story is destined to fail despite the heroic escape of the girl; the plan was executed as designed and the eventual marriage of the two love birds — a young girl and a soldier in the Jordanian army — took place in secrecy in the house of Christian family friends with the groom. She was accepted as one of the family right away and her kindness and “powers” manifested when she took care of a little girl that was separated from her mother due to the military clash.

Her first husband dies in a military car accident after the 1973 war; she moves safely to another suburb in Zarqa and gets the same kind of treatment from another family; gets married to another loving man who protects her and even kills an assailant defending her reputation and escapes again with her husband to Daraa in Syria.

It was simply a hectic life, full of fleeing war, family, and crime. She simply refused to have her will bend to the whims of others.

The story continues and somehow it is obvious to the reader that Salwa is not an ordinary person, she goes through armed barricades, can foretell the future through coffee cups for her neighbors, sees visions, manages to defend herself from a rape attempt, remedies a mute child after a ceremony of reading the Koran. However, war follows her until near the end of her life.

The writer kept jumping through time to tell his story. In Zarqa, Jordan, 1970, he laid the ground and theatre for the story and described the characters, their thoughts, and their circumstances. Then in 1985, still in Zarqa, he shows how Salwa’s life continued, how her “powers” manifested, and her second marriage.

Her second husband dies as well after a few short years after finally escaping to Daraa. Then the final jump in time was to Syria in 2011, when the militias started their war against the Syrian government and rendered all of Daraa’s population into refugees.

Every few chapters, the novelist skips a few years, changes places, and deciphers the codes of the past events in an interesting, beautiful style that keeps the reader interested until the last page. He cleverly tied all the loose ends of the novel towards the end. Every character he created, which the reader thought that his or her role has ended, shows up in the end to continue a mission that only the writer knew about.

The innovative part of the novel is raising a slow child. Salwa gave birth to a child in her early forties and brought to life Nour, who was doomed with a mix of maladies between Epilepsy to slowness. The young child showed abnormal behaviour, becoming an avid reader, absorbing Greek comedies and tragedies; impersonating them in his daily life, attracting aggressiveness from other kids, and continuous getting bullied and beat from his colleagues in school.

The writer was able to describe accurately the suffering of a single mother raising a challenged child on her own with no apparent remedy to his condition.

Without ruining the ending, taking refuge in the west was the solution presented by the novelist to the case of Salwa. Living in a victimized area like the Middle East has its beauty and its problems; taking refuge in Canada or Europe is not a solution that came out of the miserable condition that many Arab countries are living in, no, it has been a path crafted by political and social injustices.

The eye-opening solution is a wakeup call for those in power in the Arab world; do you want your people to simply leave?

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