Saturday December 3, 2016
By: Ibrahim Khalaff
Noran Omar Shafey’s debut novel, “Baraweez,” takes the reader on an intense emotional journey of three Egyptian women and how they are shaped by their life experiences. Baraweez is the Egyptian colloquial word for picture frames and the book consists of three stories (novellas), narrated by a grandmother to her loving granddaughter. On the grandmother’s coffee table are picture frames of the three Egyptian women, whose stories reflect the phases of the January 25th revolution. Each story takes you into a frame within a frame. The three characters aren’t connected, like in Lawrence Durrell’s “The Alexandria Quartet”, nor are they weaved into a multi-generational saga like Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy. In fact the connection between all their stories and the larger frame, within which their stories lie, is the Egyptian revolution itself.
The first frame depicts the betrayal of Farida, who learns the hard way that blind trust is the perfect instrument when plotting the destruction and betrayal of a human being. The second frame covers the theme of loss, where Sagy did the unthinkable and found the unconquered to get back her son who was cruelly taken from her. The third and final frame tells the story of hope, where Soha is relentless in her pursuit of true love and happiness.
And while the book is set within the events of the revolution, it tells each individual story with such vibrancy and emotion that you can feel, touch and smell the upheaval of the revolution on each and every single page. The stories are based on true events but names and places have been changed to protect the anonymity of those involved. A surprise awaits the readers when they discover that the story “Stolen” is a short-span autobiography where Shafey uses the real names.
With the drama intensifying through every page, ‘Baraweez’ is a literary masterpiece. The plot grabs a hold of the reader and challenges you to think through the hidden meanings that are weaved throughout the book. The pace forces you onto an emotional rollercoaster, going from tension to passion to sympathy. A page-turner, where each character is brought to life in the most magnetizing of ways and evolves through the conflict and challenges they are faced with throughout the storyline. The moral argument depicted in each frame is a perfect reflection of the political narrative of the revolution and is shown through the visual descriptions used by the author.
Shafey’s writing style is authentic in its simplicity and immense depth. I devoured the book in a manner of days and hated every moment I had to put it down, yearning to know what happens next. The first frame blew my mind, the second one warmed my heart and the third one spoke to my soul. Simply phenomenal!
My only criticism of the book is the time spent on detailing the clothes worn by the characters and their daily meals. They didn’t add to the color of the story and almost took something away from the characters themselves. Perhaps more time could have been spent on exploring other depths to her characters. And despite knowing the story was based on true events, I struggled to understand why “Hope’s” heroine was too stubborn to learn from her experiences. I felt that this was something important enough to warrant more time by the author to explain the motives behind that characters decisions.
Despite those details, this brilliant book is a must-read. The resolution to each of the stories gives the reader a sense of closure as they reach the last page. The author aced her debut novel in spades, offering the readers a ticket to a beautiful ride that will enrich the mind and fill the heart.
Baraweez is an avant-garde novel that announces the debut of an inspired writer.
Ibrahim Khalaff is an engineering student and an avid reader who dreams to become an author.
Edited by: Lamia Senousi