Book review: “The Heart Always Wins”, romance novel? nationalist allegory? Or a feminist tale?
Ahram Online, , Thursday 28 Jan 2021
Eman El-Emary tells a timeless love story. One would argue it is a political tale. Others would see it through the feminist lens as the classical male gaze is reversed. Nevertheless, it is heart-warming and a good read


Al-QalbYantasserDae’man, (TheHeartAlwaysWins),EmanEl-Emary, (Cairo: DarCleapatra), 2020.

In hernewnovel,Al-QalbYantasserDae’manor ‘The Heart Always Wins’,EmanEl-Emarytellsatimelesslovestory,but therearestorieswithin thestory.One wouldargueitisa political tale.Others wouldseeit through the feminist lens as the classical malegaze isreversed.Nevertheless, itisheart-warming and a goodreadwith stolen kisses and a charming prince on ahorse.

The Love Story

Dana, theprotagonist,isa lonely young lady surrounded by agroupofgirlfriends. She had a dream, which was lookingafter theestateof herfamily.Thefatherisdead; and theuncle,who had a monopoly over theestatelater on,passed away.Theinheritanceof theestategoesto Dana, her cousins, and the twosonsof theirfathers'deceasedpartner.

Theseshareholders decided tosellthe entire estate.Danaisforcedtodothe same against her will.On theday of thesale,DanameetsSeif, this charming son of thelate family’s partner. It is a meeting thatchangeseverything.Seif andDanawanttokeeptheestate.But his own brotherMahmoudandDanacousins picks a fight withthem.Thereason:thebuyerisarichArabprincewho wouldpayalot.

This is notthe firsttimethat arichArabprincehasbrokenSeif'sdream.Seif’s ex fiancéelefthim for arichArabprincetoo.

In the backgroundof theheatedlove story betweenSeifandDana, thewarover thelandgetsheated.Social media is used, along with Seif’sown tieswith British firms, toforcethe Arab prince to letgoof hisplans.

The Arab princecomestovisitthem andapologises, andMahmoud, Seif’s brother,ends up being shot dead.

Seifeventuallyasks for Dana’s hand in marriage.

The OtherLoveStory

But thistale also tells the store of the loveof an abandonedoldfamily estate and thefighttoreviveits former glory.

El-Emarydrawsan Egypt around thisestatein theshadowof its former glory.Thestoryevolvesinto a romantic resistance against those who are willing tosellthelandtoforeigners.

However, we notice that the name of the location of the storyisnot mentioned.We don’t know where Dana or her entourage live.Itmay beclearthatit’san Egyptiantown andthat the country estate is somewhere nearEl-Qanater,but the geographical location is notspecificallyindicated either.

Thatonlythingwedo knowisthat Seif’sgrandfatherlived here 2generationsago.Wedon’t, however,knowtheageof any of thecharacters.

Thedatesanderaare alsofar from being precise.We can just guess that the events are taking place vaguely in recent times when we see the mention of social media and text messages.

This recurrentomittingof information isclearly an editorial choice that wouldgivea writer more freedom.Besides, an anonymous setting canconveyasenseof universality to thestoryandmakeittimeless.

This Egyptian battle couldbeanyone's own struggle,anyone's story.Anyonewouldeasilyidentify with either theprotagonistsor the secondary characters or maybe even the villagers in the background.It’sa timelessstoryofEgypt.

Mothering the Nation and That Enemy Within

In thisnovel, thenameofSeif’s motheris also anonymous. Although,shewasthe daughterof a ‘Big Pasha’ andwasverydeterminedtokeepthefarmand themanoragainst thewillof herhusbandand hersonMahmoud.Only Seif shared this passion with his mum.

Thisimageryofmotherandson guardiansis rooted in Egyptian mythology and has beenpassed onthroughhistory.From the Pharaonic religious figureIsis, motherofHorus,who passedit ontoMary of Jesus, whopasseditlater onto the Muslim Sayidah Zaynab.

Even in more recent times and outside the religious halo, Egypt remained aladycalledBahiya. She probably looks like that lady standing by the sphinx, not far from Cairo University, overlooking the Nile River.

Onethingsurvived throughout history, Masr(Egypt), Um Al-Dunya(Mother Of The World)hasalwaysbeenawoman.

No wonder Seif insists on passing the prestigious manor from his mother to Dana.He also hires her tofarmtheland, sinceDanahasadegreein Agriculture.

However, Mahmoud, is probably a symbol of another Egypt.He is that ‘enemy within’.That evil brother, who pushed his successful brother into ‘exile’ in the United Kingdom.

No one reading thescenewhere thethugsattackthefarmovernight cannotavoidseeingit as asymbolof Egypt beingattackedbutprotectedby thelocal farmers.

This idea of the enemy within, the bad citizen vs the good citizen is also displayed when Mahmoudtries to rapeHana’a, a hired help in themansion.Hana’awassavedby Seif.No one can argue that this rape scene is a symbol of Egypt’s honour being violated by her own bad son and saved by the other good son.

Wenoticethe absenceof all religious and political figures as well.Again, this just keeps on making the story as timeless as the story of a nation being attacked and defended relentlessly.

Women,Bearersof theLook

LauraMulveyisa feminist film theorist from Britain. In her best-knownessay'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema', published in 1975, she explained that“in aworldordered by sexual imbalance,pleasureinlookinghas beensplitbetween active/maleand passive/female.The determining male gaze projects itsfantasyon to the female form which is styled accordingly(…)”

Traditionally in media and cinema, women are gazed at by men protagonists as well as by the readers or the spectators. These women are usually beautiful and sexualised.

This is not, however, thecaseof Dana. Wehardlyknowanything about how shelooks like.Dana didn’t look in themirroronce.Shedidn’t try to make herself pretty for Seif’seyes.

On the other hand, wereadintodetails onhow Danafeltstanding before Seif'stallandlargebody.Thenarratoralsodescribed howshelikedhis tanned skin and thecolourof hiseyes.Thenarratorkepttrackof Seif's lengthy conversation with his own heart. This is clearly theoppositeof the traditionalgazeas described byMulvey.

El-Emary, although still shy in thephysical details, hasreversedthat malegaze.Seif fell under both Dana's gaze as well as the narrator’s.

This feminist approachseems wellinlinewith thededicationof the novel itself. El-Emarydedicated her book exclusively towomen.To theclosestones to herheartand probably in a respectful age order:hergrandmother, hermother, hersister, herniece, herteacher, her older femaleneighbour,and two childhoodneighbourswho arealsogirls.

Like this dedication, thestoryunfoldswith anabsenceof patriarchal figures of all sorts.Thefatherisdead, theuncletoo, thecousinsaregirls.Even the brief appearance of the paternal uncle towards theendlooks purely cosmetic.

No one canarguethat such dedicationisan empowering statement for women on its own.

Theauthorherself, hasbeenajournalistfor 25yearsat the first feminist newspaper in Cairo if not the Middle East — Hawa’a(Eve).Hawa’awas founded in 1954 by Egyptian Feminist Amina El-Said.

El-EmaryhaspreviouslypublishedTheBattleOf Love in2009,TheJasmine Tree in 2011,andWillNot SayGoodbye, My Love in 2012.

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