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.
Subjects: Language & Literature
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