Lana Abdel Rahman probes the internal world of her characters through dreams and memory. “The Sea Facing North” is from Abdel Rahman’s latest collection of short stories, Stories of Strangers. I kept returning to this haunting story, told with deceptive simplicity. Walking along the sea with a friend, a young boy is disturbed by a memory from his childhood, which he tells to his companion. When I asked Lana about “The Sea Facing North,” she told me a friend had told her the story about an honor killing. But she transformed a raw anecdote from daily life into a fable with repetition of images and details. The sea in Brazil brings up the memory of a sea from the past in Lebanon–which, in turn, forces the boy to relive the experience and tell the story.
– Gretchen McCullough
Lana Abdel Rahman is a Lebanese writer, living in Cairo. In her novel The Snow of Cairo, published by Afaq Publishers in Cairo, Abdel Rahman not only explores Sufi ideas, but also reincarnation. Bushra, a young Syrian woman, moves to Cairo from Syria with her Egyptian mother. Bushra’s father has died, and her mother wants to return to her Egyptian roots. But soon after their arrival, Bushra’s mother dies and Bushra must cope with her grief and alienation, alone except for a few Egyptian relatives. Bushra feels the visceral presence of another woman, Nur Jihan, in her dreams and even in her body. Nur Jihan was a young Egyptian princess who was married off to a Turkish prince. She is a woman from the past with a tragic story; someone Bushra could not have possibly known in her life. Chapter One of the novel alternates between the voices of two narrators, Nur Jihan and Bushra. Nur Jihan also remembers her past life as a gypsy dancer called “Soleil.”
In The Snow of Cairo time is borderless: the narrators’ shift verb tense from present to past and back again. Consciousness is similarly fluid and dreamlike, evoking the fluidity and inscrutability of history and the dead. In Chapter One, Bushra learns many secrets of her mother’s life. The novel holds us in suspense as the lives of the two narrators, at first seemingly unrelated, crisscross and circle back to the secret of Nur Jihan’s death.
– Gretchen McCullough
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