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Leaves of Narcissus

Leaves of Narcissus

Somaya Ramadan
Traslated by Marilyn Booth
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 112
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  • Book Info
    Leaves of Narcissus
    Book Description:

    This novel of home and homelessness, of exile both physical and psychological, centers on Kimi, a fragile heroine suffering from a rift in her persona, unable to distinguish between her own pain and the pain of others. For Kimi it is not a simple case of to be or not to be, but rather of how to be in disjointed and contrary times. Leaves of Narcissus, like earlier Arabic novels about East-West encounters by male writers such as Tawfiq al-Hakim, Taha Hussein, and Tayeb Salih, is about a young Arab student going west in search of education. Here, though, the protagonist is a young woman and her destination is Ireland, a part of the West and at the same time a victim of the ravages of colonialism—adding ambiguity to the customary representations of the East-West dichotomy. In this captivating novel, Somaya Ramadan displays a rare virtuosity in evoking and interlacing literary motifs—from the popular to the learned, from the folk to the mythic, from the Egyptian to the Irish—and poses questions rather than answers, questions that hold a mirror to our selves.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-215-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Translatorʹs Note
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Chapter 1 It Might Be
    (pp. 1-4)

    The instant before submission is the most difficult of moments. This might be the secret to its vital attractiveness-the irresistible finality of it. The edge of resistance, a breaking point, when your being has stretched itself to its utmost and your consciousness has spun itself thin, tensile, to the finest and most transparent thread. The chasm before you is featureless: absolutely new, wholly defiant to all powers of imagination. Is it something like this that people sense as they are led to the gallows?

    It might be. Some sort of hope might linger, accompanying them all the way to the...

  5. Chapter 2 A Lesson in Reckoning Sums
    (pp. 5-16)

    She loses her temper, loses it completely. Her small, angular face reddens so spectacularly that I can see the soft dark hairs rimming her stern mouth. Beneath those tightly set lips run a pair of arcs, permanently etched lines of prolonged anger and bitterness in a marble face. Miss Diana, Greek spinster, teaches sums and algebra to the hapless daughters of the bourgeoisie. She is always garbed in mourning, and often she loses her temper.

    “You’re stupid,” she snaps, in English.

    Her hand shoots out to clutch a dangling lock of hair atop the small forehead, closing her fingers around...

  6. Chapter 3 The First Time?
    (pp. 17-22)

    At ten o’clock in the evening, three doctors in their medical garb stand in a lavishly appointed hall, against a backdrop of black and white and dull red marble. Amidst the swirls of color and precisely at the center of the round hall stands a mahogany table on which sits a bust of Jonathan Swift.

    One of the figures brought out a sheet of paper and a pen and asked me to sign my name in a box at the foot of the page. At the head of the page, in black letters printed in a serene and easy-to-read font,...

  7. Chapter 4 17 Westland Row
    (pp. 23-24)

    House Number 17 on Westland Row shares a wall with the row house in which the gay master of irony, Oscar Wilde, was born, sacrificial lamb to the Empire and equally its shadiest shadow. This building provides housing to fourteen women, all graduate students. Its inner courtyard gives onto a corridor from which a small door leads directly to the university’s back gate. It’s the shortest path to and from the laboratories and the library. At the end of the corridor, to the left, is a pub: Dublin is the city of pubs and clever talk.

    On the first level...

  8. Chapter 5 Parable of a Homeland
    (pp. 25-28)

    On the wall is a map of exile. On other walls she has seen such maps, but they were maps that conjured a nation. People who possessed such maps reconstructed nation’ to their liking and hung it on their walls, recreating it across the surfaces of their interiors. She had seen them, in London, summoning Egypt ‘through its objects’: worked fabrics, woven rugs, papyrus, statuettes, photographs.

    London was full of Egyptians. Here there was no one but herself—and the Africans. In the house opposite the station, the walls of those narrow rooms were hung with pictures of Geneva and...

  9. Chapter 6 The Mirror
    (pp. 29-34)

    Endless days: she conversed with no one, and nobody spoke to her. Until, one Saturday, she entered Green’s Bookstore that faced the college entrance and saw the poster, a reproduction of Salvador Dali’s paintingMetamorphosis of Narcissus. She bought it. Mary, who had the room next to the kitchen on the ground floor, was with her as she hung it on the wall. She began justifying to Mary why she had bought the poster, when suddenly she discovered that while she had noticed the human form and the glassy lake and even the individual leaves on the trees, until that...

  10. Chapter 7 The Route to Saint Patrickʹs
    (pp. 35-38)

    In the small room on the first floor of Number 17 Westland Row, the light went out. The papers scattered across the room were collected, filling one paper bag after another. These pages have been carefully ripped to shreds. Here is the parable of a dream. What happened in that dream? And why did it begin with the Lord’s Prayer, and how did it end cut to shreds and stuffed into bags now hoisted by Beth, the cleaning lady, who carried them to the trash bin? Scraps stayed on in the corners of the brain: bits of a long epistle...

  11. Chapter 8 Saint Patrick
    (pp. 39-40)

    A second later the darkness lifted and I found myself in a long ward, lying in a metal-framed bed and covered by a light- • weight woolen blanket. It was cold in the room, and I was shivering. Then a door opened at the far end of the ward and a warm light entered, ushering in the shadow of a woman in a nursing uniform. Closing the door behind her, she turned on a small lamp sitting on a desk at that end of the room. She seated herself carefully behind the desk and proceeded to write.

    With the lamp...

  12. Chapter 9 The Parable of Narcissus
    (pp. 41-44)

    Among the leaves of paper that were torn to shreds had been pages that held the story of a despairing love. Because it began in despair it was truly love, unadulterated by any of those concerns that squash love into the shapes of practical equations when people catch themselves thinking: Forever? It was a love that attached no strings.

    On rainy days they would light a fire in his house in Dún Laoghaire on the sea, and then they would drink wine, listen to music, and gaze from behind the windowpanes at the sea as it frothed and churned. When...

  13. Chapter 10 In My Fatherʹs House
    (pp. 45-52)

    The return journey is difficult and slow. So many minutiae attend a farewell. I gather my things. I stare at the wall some more, and then I go back to packing my bags. In the end I decide to leave nothing behind. I climb onto the bed and take down the poster,The Metamorphosis of Narcissus. Carefully, I roll it into a long tube, and by the time that Beth comes in to ask if I need help, I have finished sealing the edges of the poster with tape. I hoist the poster in its new shape and look through...

  14. Chapter 11 The Wilderness
    (pp. 53-56)

    I stretched out on my bed, studying the wall. Suddenly the door to the room swung open furiously and Amna came in, that frown on her face, the old ovalshaped sewing box in her hands. With her entered the fragrance of white sheets toasted by the winter sun and tablecloths embroidered in gold thread.

    The scents of talcum powder and cologne enter with her, too.

    “What’s wrong?” I ask.

    “I too have something wrong?”

    “What is it?”

    “You don’t know? Get up, go tell your mother that you’re sorry.” Her loyalty was always firmly on the side of mothers.


  15. Chapter 12 The City
    (pp. 57-60)

    You studied music and graduated with a degree in voice from the Conservatory, is that correct?” asks the television interviewer.

    Without giving it any thought, the young man answers, “If God wills.”

    Times have changed. I have been away for ten years, and so of course things are different. If people have begun to say “If God wills” when they’re talking about yesterday, then it must be that particular coordinates of time and place have met, and at the intersection, something has happened. Or else, how have people come to speak of the past in the grammar of the future?...

  16. Chapter 13 Tales
    (pp. 61-66)

    Tales are entwined in remedies: stories are always paths on the search for a cure. A tale cannot be twice told even if it harbors & a nightmare. But those things we deprive of selves—things we describe yet do not narrate—repeat themselves, to guarantee our sense of security. They’re right before us every time, there in the museum, in the sitting room, never moving on, never departing us, never replaced or exchanged: an embalmed corpse who has told no tales. What could I suitably and allowably tell, when the fear of lying has made me a ready morsel for...

  17. Chapter 14 Fear
    (pp. 67-72)

    Hurriedly I stuff my things into my bag. Wallet, glasses, pocket mirror, and hairbrush. Amna stands staring at me as I snatch the key chain, and when our eyes meet, I give in to the silent command of hers. I go in search of my mother. I find her wiping the dust from the leaves of the plants in the sitting room, leaf by leaf, her hands encased in white gloves. She is muttering something under her breath. Resentment wells up inside of me, but I suppress it and smile: my mother is talking to the plants.

    “Don’t be late,”...

  18. Chapter 15 Dwellings of the Soul
    (pp. 73-80)

    I had an onion in my hand. It was the morning of Shamm al- Nasim. The ancient feast of spring. I was peeling the onion and when I finished peeling it I realized that the peel was all there was to the onion. I realized that they had deceived us, though they might have been well-intentioned. Perhaps they acted out of a stupid and stubborn adherence to false hopes. If only the lesson in sums and accounts had begun with peeling an onion and counting the layers of skin that composed it. If only they had told us.

    “Children, you...

  19. Chapter 16 Doubt
    (pp. 81-84)

    Doubt is the threshold of fear … is it not? It’s possible to polish fear until it is refined into a chisel that you can use to sculpt and carve your existence. In fact, existence is doubt’s best friend and companion; its highest fortress is death, and every fear antecedent to that is only a relative thing. Every analogy is measured by the decisive criterion. But what if death grows in the imagination to become something beyond the limits of the possible? And what if someone or other has the means to kill you and you die from a hemorrhage...

  20. Chapter 17 Reading Lesson
    (pp. 85-88)

    The professor is famous. He sits at a dais. He looks at me, searchingly, and says, “God is merciful to a person who knows his own worth.” I am positive that he is directing his words to me. My own worth? I don’t know my own worth? It’s a paltry worth, and it decreases with every day that passes. But I almost succeeded. I almost got there. I almost let the layers peel off, the final skin drop. After the final layer goes, no one will see me, and it will no longer be in anyone’s power to sting me...

  21. Chapter 18 Sirens
    (pp. 89-92)

    The voices take on rainbow hues just as the speech billows the lines into waves and transforms them into melodies howling of death. The sirens whisper, beseeching, pleading. “Alone, you can, you alone of all people, you alone can rescue me, can help me. You only … alone.”

    Words, speech: Speech reels, spins thread out of itself, and weaves a larger space, and moves, and spreads …. Images beget images in a like process. The moment on the verge of quiet surrender … its lures are stronger than all the songs of the sirens together. In all tongues a strong...

  22. Chapter 19 The Trace
    (pp. 93-94)

    I write, I erase. I write. What if someone reads these leaves of paper before they’re … complete? Writing is never complete and yet people manage to read it! How can something be complete unless it dies? This is self-evident. Everything, as long as it is still alive, must be at some stage. Only when we die are we complete. Or when they kill us in words-our loved ones, so very determined to preserve our images just so, or in this form, or that. Or, we’re made complete when we kill ourselves having so liked to claim that we were...

  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 95-96)