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Monday, 12 April 2021

Book Review: Six lives and not a purpose

Ossama Lotfy Fateem , Thursday 11 Mar 2021
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Sit Arwah Takfi Lel-Lahw (Six Lives are Enough for Fun), Doaa Ibrahim, Cairo: Ibiidi Book Data Publishing Services, 2019.


In the Western culture cats have nine lives, in the eastern seven. Novelist Doaa Ibrahim decided in her novel that six are enough to have fun. But once we start reading we find that there is no fun in the story; there is depression, paranoia, murder, a character who has sex with cats thinking they are human females, a mirror who observes the main character’s life and becomes part of the novel along with a stick that tells the story in a mediocre narration that adds negativity to the painful experience of reading the novel.

The main character is a crazy nameless person. In the beginning he kills his neighbour who used to follow and make fun of him, his paranoia led him to believe that his mother and the cats were recruited by the secret service to report all his moves, thoughts and actions. The murderer was never discovered, and the victim’s widow tries to seduce the narrator / killer, or so he thought.

Cats play a role in the novel; the killer decided that the ghost of Said, his murdered neighbor, is following him, he had seven lives like cats so there are six more cats or lives that he had to take to ensure his actual death; after all why keep him alive after killing him, the job had to be completed.

The details are numerous, the mirror is part of the crazy man’s life, and it watches his wife, mother and daughter and gives him a report on their life at home when he is not around; he gets the idea that the wife wants to kill the daughter and the mother poisoned him, which led to the “brain melting” syndrome that he suffers from. He explained it to the physician in charge of his case, his mind melts, dissolves into various objects and becomes one with them, and he considers it a blessing and likes it that way. By becoming part of objects his world expands.

The main character explains his case: “I possess a miracle that people deny, I own a non-traditional gift and they are used to all what is traditional, traditional stories, traditional opinions and traditional lives; all what is different shakes them to the core and they found one solution to stop the struggle within themselves which is to stone all what is different until death.”

This is the only valuable idea in the novel. People refuse and resist all what is new or uncommon. In other words, the majority are always wrong. That concept was proven again and again throughout history; scientists, artists and inventors suffered a lot to convince the world of their ideas. Putting such a concept in the mouth of a mad man diminishes its value greatly. The nameless person tries to kill his loving wife, and he was the reason for his kind neighbour's suicide after killing her six cats. Hr spent an unspecified amount of time in a mental institution where he was treated with electric shocks and medicine to get him to function again, and even that was not successful.

The writer could not draw sympathy to the novel, the events, the cats, or the characters. She was not able to draw the various characters to the point of staying in the reader’s memory. The mother is a traditional woman who figured through her limited knowledge that getting her son married to the girl he loved would be the solution to his mental disorder, especially that the girl loved him as well. The wife is a normal girl who simply accepts her fate even after her husband tries to kill her during one of his “episodes” and pulls rank with the mother to send him to be treated; he tried to choke his mother when she went to visit him as well in the mental institution, thinking he was doing it only in his mind. The crazy man is simply… crazy; he lives in parallel worlds, he gets naked in the street and when he regains consciousness he does not understand how he got to that condition, he imagines that people are talking about him and making fun of him, and many other small events that render the character so unattractive.

The narration style is confusing, perplexing and clouding to the reader. We are not sure which events are real and which are occurring in the crazy man’s head or dreams.

The description of the mental institution and the patients feels so fake, the writer somehow decided to channel the feelings of a mental patient to the reader after receiving an electric shock session; if she had the medical experience to know about it she certainly was not effective in describing it to the reader in a simple manner. It was the patient who explained how he felt with a lot of forgetfulness in his portrayal, which added to the overall uncertainty for the reader.

When reading such a novel, questions arise, such as what is the purpose of the novel? Was this novel written to give joy to the reader? Give new ideas? Adding to his knowledge about a certain subject? Or any other purpose that might become clear to the reader. In this case, the purpose was either nonexistent or unclear on all levels. 

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