Leaves of Narcissus by Somaya Ramadan

Leaves of Narcissus by Somaya Ramadan

Egyptian fiction

Original title – Awraq Al-Nargis

Translator – Marilyn Booth

Source – personal copy

I was drawn to this book when I ordered it a couple of years ago as it had the mention of Ireland in the description and would be the second Egyptian novel that had been set in Ireland I had read Temple Bar by Bahaa Abdelmegid and felt this would give a female perspective on the same experience of leaving Egypt to study abroad. Somaya Ramadan herself had spent time in Egypt studying English and then she studied in the early 1980s in Dublin she went to trinity college which I  feel maybe where she drew inspiration for this book that also follows a female student from Egypt as she heads to Ireland to study and start a new life there. she had written a couple of short story collections before this novel came out. This novel won the Naguib Mahfouz medal when it came out.

I walked in the direction of my lodging, across from the train station, and fished out my keys, ignoring the source of that invasive scream. The noise that had now subsided distilled a single, terrifying insight: that what I live is not the condition which other human beings live. That my senses and my comprehension of life are not those of anyone else, of anyone else but me. Something very alarming was beginning to weave itself together there in front of me, slowly, growing to giant proportions as it came ever nearer, a fearsome cold tidal wave edging toward me to swallow me completely to bring darkness over all to bring stillness.

The arrival in Dublin of Kimi the sense of being overwhelmed is here

The book follows Kimi a sensitive woman that has the ability to feel the emotions of those around her and she is about to head to Ireland to study. This is the start of the book and it deals with the usual clash of cultures that a move like this can bring a person to the edge as she struggles to fit in the style of the narrative of Kimi and the world is a nod to Joyce we see her inner working as she settles into her lodgings at Westland row in Dublin as she walks a tightrope as she struggles with her mental health as the move is overwhelming to her as she is a fragile soul as her world and the lit world she is studying at times almost touch and blur as she tries to fit in an exile in a country with its own selection of exiles this is a classic slice of culture clash and also a nod to classic modernist writing.

The map of exile fixed to the wall was not a yearning for the homeland. There was no exile. All there was, in that place, was another homeland, another nation. A nation inhabited by its own images, its own brands of hypocrisy, its own deliberate silences and its own pretense, that it alone existed and that anything east of London or west of Boston had no real place in the calculations of geography. These were unknown reaches, better left unknown. The only condition was silence and the pretense that here was all there was

As I say being an exile is a theme in the book as both countries have had so many over the years.

Ramadan herself is also a translator of English books into Arabic, you can see the influence of that on this as one of the writers she has translated like  Virginia Woolf into Arabic. Kimi is like a Woolf character that fragile line between being there and losing one’s mind in the world she is in. That Woolf did so well in her books. It is also a classic look at culture clash and being a fish out of water. But alongside this is the culture clash of Kimi in a new country and studying there as well. There is a nod to the common ground of Egypt and Ireland being in countries with many exiles and being an exile from your own country in that country that has a lot of exiles in. This is like a Rachel from a voyage out or later characters from the waves had stepped out of a Woolf novel and become Egyptian in Dublin this is a fragile woman in a new world and has a wonderful amount of lit quotes it is easy to see how in love the writer is with English literature with a sprinkling of quotes here and there in the book. I said this is a perfect companion piece to Temple Bar another fish out of water this has a female take on that experience. Have you read this or any other AUC(AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN CARIO)  books?

Winstons score – A – A lost modern gem of Arabic writing about being an outsider in Ireland

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Hill
    Jan 15, 2023 @ 20:46:46

    Does she say what the circumstances of her leaving Egypt were? From what I can see at Wikipedia, she’s teaching in Cairo, so perhaps she wasn’t in exile. An exile, a term much over-used these days, is a person who is barred from their native country, for political or punitive reasons. Choosing to study, or to migrate and make a new life elsewhere is not a state of exile, because exile by definition means that the person can never go home.
    It may seem picky, but I feel that people using the term just because they feel out of place in a country, diminishes the experience of real exiles who’ve had to flee their country for safety and can never go back. Thomas Mann was an exile, and you can feel his existential anguish in that marvellous book The Decision, (which you recommended to me). James Joyce was not. He had choices, whereas Thomas Mann under the Nazis did not.


    • winstonsdad
      Jan 15, 2023 @ 20:50:31

      Yes maybe it more used as being away from home than in exile the parallel for me
      Is the fact a lot of
      People leave both countries the leaving was in terms of studying maybe I should used another term maybe Saudade would have been a better term than exile


      • Lisa Hill
        Jan 15, 2023 @ 21:01:54

        Saudade is a beautiful word, and just perfect for that feeling. But I see from your quotation that ‘exile’ is used in the book, maybe it’s what the translator chose?

      • winstonsdad
        Jan 15, 2023 @ 21:04:44

        Yes I love saudade that be the perfect word it’s that longing for home in the book but yes imagine hard to choose a word in this case I wonder
        If that Arabic word is one that has more of a meaning than exile

      • Lisa Hill
        Jan 15, 2023 @ 21:07:23

        I’d have a go at learning Arabic, but that script is just too hard for my ageing brain! I still struggle with the Russian alphabet when I’m doing it on Duolingo.

      • winstonsdad
        Jan 15, 2023 @ 21:13:11

        Also the opposite way of reading I’d find odd

      • Lisa Hill
        Jan 15, 2023 @ 21:46:19

        Yeah, I’ve never learned a language that goes in a different direction!

  2. Claire 'Word by Word'
    Jan 16, 2023 @ 07:36:32

    This sounds like a wonderful and interesting read, it’s interesting that search for the word, I remember teaching a class if young French women and they asked me what that word meant ‘homesickness’ and when I described it as that feeling when you live away from home, we discovered none of them had ever experienced it. They wanted to call it nostalgia, after one woman said, oh my husband is like that and then he wants to cook his mother’s food from Italy. 🤣 I think I was more astonished by them never having left than at the lack of a word, though my son has since described it to me as the expression ‘mal du pays’.


  3. Trackback: Stu’s 2023 journey January | Winstonsdad's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

January 2023


%d bloggers like this: