Book Review: The Sliding Doors, second guessing life choices

Ossama Lotfy Fateem , Tuesday 12 Jul 2022

El-Abwab El-Monzaleka (The Sliding Doors) by Sohair Sabry, (Cairo: Al Ain Publishing house), 2020


In her latest book El-Abwab El-Monzaleka (The Sliding Doors), writer Sohair Sabry gives the reader brilliant glimpses of her life, or so the reader might think. The difference between the writer and the narrator is almost nonexistent. Was she talking about her life, or just an imagination to which her whole generation can relate? This is a question that each reader will have to answer for themselves.  

The author explains her choice of title. She took it from the romantic drama movie of the same name produced in 1998, written and directed by Peter Howitt. The movie shows how a small incident like catching the train or missing it can produce two totally different timelines in a person’s life. This idea made her reflect on her own life, or the narrator’s life to be more specific.

What if she had married her first love? Or her European friend who would have never changed his religion in order to marry her, especially after believing in Buddhism, or if her brother was tough on her and forced her to change her behavior and beliefs, would she have been the same person? Many more incidents like this make the reader wonder about his/her own life. What if I got this job and not that one, what if I met that person instead of that one when I needed a companion, and many more queries like that come to mind for each reader. Sabry either intentionally or not invited the reader to be creative in his/her life, imagine for yourself a different path than the one you took, better yet, write about it if you can or try to change your reality if it is doable.

Sabry classified her book as stories or tales. That is an indication to the reader; they are not short stories with the conventional definition of short stories, and it is not a novel either, but it can be taken as such because she wrote it in the first person, giving glimpses of life, whether hers or not. And when it was not a personal story, she wrote about how she came to know about it. 

“Cultural shock” is the clear example for such a story; she heard about it and forged it into a one-page story. A discussion with an English co-worker; where the latter told her about a friend of hers who was involved with a 24-year-old girl; who told him that she loved him. Mentioning the girl’s age implies right away that the man was older. He discovered that the girl was a virgin in their encounter. He could not accept her naïve love as he called it; instead, he told her to get experiences with other men in order to love him with both her heart and mind with the necessary sophistication and responsibility that comes with the word. He simply broke up with her. 

Such a story leaves the Middle Eastern reader in general – the conservative one in particular – with disturbing questions regarding the men and women of the west, or the values implemented in the society regarding love, relationships and sex. In that story in particular, the writer does not give judgment, but leaves the reader to fall in his own thoughts and ideas.

In her tale titled ‘Love,’ the author describes various love experiences that she went through after her divorce. She describes her emotions and feelings with dazzling understanding and depth. She goes in detailed explanations and insights which make it seem like confessions or getting naked on paper. A woman totally honest about her feelings, urges, wishes and desires; that is what this story is all about.

She writes her stories in short concise chapters, and admits when she was dumped and wonders why. In one of the chapters, she explains that when loved by her older professor and loved him back with the approval of his wife, that it was the positive kind of love, the type that remains pure and respectable and brings happiness to both parties; in this case it was for three parties. This is a deep way to describe a love relationship, the kind of relationship that we judge by our hearts, not our minds, a beautiful relationship that cannot be accepted by any society unless it is looked at as a “happiness bringer”. 

In one of her one-page stories titled ‘Witness on Your Life,’ she writes about a friend of her who took a brief video of a parade in a European country to send to her husband back home; she could not enjoy the moment without involving him in it. She simply wanted him to be a witness of her life, its good moments and its bad ones. This idea of having a witness to your life is among the motivations that all humans have, at least in my opinion. People are born, do whatever they do in their lives, right and wrong, good and bad, and never get out of this earth alive. The only proof that they existed is the work they leave behind if it survives time, but that is certainly not guaranteed. So, the only tangible proof is really the people who saw them alive. Influencing others and making them witnesses that we lived on this earth is the factor that each human can affect or motivate in others. This short story invites such a notion to the reader.

The innovative part in the author’s style and ideas is that she depicts the woman in all her imaginable situations or statuses. She is the daughter, the sister, the other woman, the divorced, the mother, the human who suffers from her circumstances, the one who refuses lovers, the one who gets rejected by men, and the more we re-read her words, we find wisdom, well expressed emotions and certainly intelligence in dealing with life and the problems that come with it.

If the writer is really the narrator, the reader cannot help themselves but be envious of such a rich life the writer has experienced, and depending on each person’s heart or way of life, these stories can be a source of disincentive or that of an inspiration, I think the latter is the writer’s intention.

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