Iman Mersal’s In the Footsteps of Enayat Al-Zayyat takes the reader on a quest to unearth the reasons behind a young author’s suicide. Mersal is captivated by the author’s only novel, Love and Silence, which she comes across by chance in Sour Al-Azbakiya. She was drawn to the author’s surname, which resembles that of the award-winning novelist Latifa Al-Zayyat. Mersal assumed a relation between the two, but later learned there was none.
Love and Silence was an obscure semi-autobiographical narrative of grieving woman in the 1950s. Inspired by Al-Zayyat’s own grievances, the book illustrates a young woman’s search for a way out of her despair and into a hopeful future. While Al-Zayyat’s depression consumed her and took her life before the age of thirty, she afforded her protagonist a happier ending. Upon learning of the tragic fate of the author, Mersal made it her mission to track down her story.
Dilemma by Baheya Zeitoun is a short work of fiction that explores the dilemmas and emotional struggles of a young woman stuck in a love triangle and unable, at first, to determine the right way forward for herself. This contemporary story is told from first person perspective, the heroine telling her own story in journal style. No names of the characters are given – they are referred to as “I”, “she” or “he”. The heroine experiences confusion, hopes, disappointments and finally resolves to leave her unsatisfactory relationship behind her and begin to develop herself and a life of her own. This has interesting and unexpected consequences for her.
Baheya Zeitoun has an attractive and appealing writing style. Her unusual decision not to give names to her characters has an interesting effect in that it doesn’t detract from the story at all. “We are all the same in being different” states the book’s main character at the start – names can give rise to false expectations or prejudices. I love the way the heroine finds her way through her relationship dilemmas and works to resolve her financial difficulties, so she can develop her talents as a writer.
The book has a message about not settling for pleasing others when this has a detrimental effect on ourselves. It’s when the young woman lets go of unfulfilling situations and people, and concentrates on developing herself, friendships, and her abilities that life starts to unfold in a natural, exciting and good way. Dilemma is a very readable, carefully plotted, entertaining story with believable characters and dilemmas with which many readers may identify.
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