Zahret El Rimola ("The Rimola Flower"), by Ihab Fawzy, Port Said: Al Weiheiby Publishing House, 2021.
Eternal questions like how did we come to life? Why are we on earth? What is the real story of our creation? Do we have a purpose in this life? These and many other existential questions have always been in the minds of philosophers, novelists and humans in general.
In his novel The Remola Flower, novelist Ihab Fawzy offers an innovative telling of the creation of man. The story begins with a meeting with the master. There are two classes in the master’s kingdom, the goods and the slaves. The slaves were degraded to that position because they used their minds trying to reach the truth away from the master. The good ones retained their favored status because they did not; they simply remained obedient. Starting the novel while avoiding the details of the sin that the slaves committed was a shrewd way to clear human conscious from guilt.
The slaves’ leader requests a meeting with the master, not apologising as he had been doing for ages, but proposing that the slaves be sent to one of the kingdoms that the master had already created. First, their memories of the master’s kingdom would be erased. Second, giving them instincts and desires in life would be the real test of their souls. Would they remain pure or become tainted? The leader argues that the good ones did not earn their status because they were not put to a test. Therefore, they too could join in the adventure as well, with the master’s permission.
This demand and the language used in this first chapter lead the reader right away to the creator’s court, where there are discussions between angels and the demons, which is a story that has been dealt with in religious books and in various novels over the years.
The beginning takes the reader by surprise; we realise that a different creation story is being told. The question in the back of our mind is: could this be the book answering the eternal question of how and why we were created? Did that novelist find inspiration that might explain the creation question?
An agreement is reached between the leaders of the goods and the slaves. Seven souls are sent to earth (three goods and four slaves) who will establish their own rules and discover the world through their built-in talent and intelligence.
Once on earth, they become separated. The writer skillfully explains how they use their senses to discover their surroundings, their bodies, and sex between male and female. Their lives seem eternal; unions between the chosen seven among themselves, and with their descendants increase their numbers. They establish the sea kingdom and the mountain kingdom. The geographical separation leads to the development of different rules and ways of lives. The first murder occurs and the concept of conspiracy and rebellion against authority, due to greed and power, happens in both kingdoms. Eventually – since memories of being created by the master were erased – gods of the river, the sea, the wind are created. In brief, human history begins.
The long lives of the original seven (some live for nine hundred years), gives the impression that death was not part of the initial plan. Both leaders of the slaves and the goods kept consulting with the master and updating him on the developments of earth. The master gave them clear instructions not to interfere personally or through supernatural powers in life on earth.
By the middle of the novel, the master decides to go to sleep and we never hear from him again, a clear influence of Nietzsche’s philosophy with his famous quote that “God is dead”. In the novel’s context, the master left human development to take its own course.
This novel is the type where the reader needs a chart to keep up with the various characters, their descendants, their interactions with each other and their roles in human development on earth.
By the last third of the novel, the characters’ arcs get tangled with each other, especially since the writer chooses invented names that can pass for either male or female. The speed of the events adds to the confusion as well, a trait that occurs in all novels written in this style, where several generations of the same family are handled in one story.
Due to the long lives of the original seven souls send to earth, their characters are described in depth and their development is easy to notice. From not knowing how they came to earth to eventually forgetting the question to handle more pressing matters such as managing their lives on earth.
Since they had to learn how to use the elements in the environment, the reader can see how they discovered hunting, agriculture, fishing and fire and how these innovations helped build communities and kingdoms. The writer reveals that creating gods for the elements of nature was a way to split power between the rulers and the spiritual guides. In this early stage of humanity there was an alliance between both power and religion that contained the roots of governance and control of the masses.
The ending of the novel comes suddenly when the most loved character within the novel becomes the queen of a unified kingdom, bringing the hope of peace and prosperity to humanity. This is an optimistic notion that people all over the world are in need of. With this ending the writer classifies himself among the hopeful ones who still see a positive future for humanity.
The story of creation haunts us all and Fawzy gives a new version of it that is worthy, even if it is just from the imagination of a clever writer. His writing style intertwined with the nature of the subject keeps the reader interested until the last page in hope of finding an answer to the creation question. Bringing the master back to the scene would have been a great addition to the novel, but this will always be a strong step to take by novelists.