March 7, 2023
“Mansoura Ezeldin’s novel has the intensity and mystery of a marvelous gem” – Damien Aubel reviews Ezeldin’s “The orchards of Basra”

“Mansoura Ezeldin’s novel has the intensity and mystery of a marvelous gem” – Damien Aubel reviews Ezeldin’s “The orchards of Basra”

Damien Aubel, February 2023,  for Transfuge

Mansoura Ezeldin’s novel has the intensity and mystery of a marvelous gem. It illuminates this winter’s publications.
Here is a book which delights the reader in exactly the same proportion as it condemns the critic to embarrassment.

A book that prevents any analytical intent, and causes a thousand rare pleasures. A small prowess in which the qualities apparently least likely to agree come together with the most perfect naturalness. A malleable alloy where are mixed together the highest erudition — the intellectual effervescence of the Basra of the 8th century –; the flow, both tumultuous and fluid, of the river of the story (the Nile and the reveries it causes on many pages); and finally the haziness, the flashings and the obsessions of a soul of our time, though not “in” our time. That of Hisahm, an Egyptian seller of rare books, living in a mixed, paradoxical atmosphere, where the realities of external life compete with dreams, where facts and texts form the same tasty and unsettling paste, where the solicitations from the outside world are constantly filtered through intimate chimeras.
The critic, if he overcame his Flaubertian heritage and set out to clearly delimit the story of “The Orchards of Basra”, would, as the preceding passage already suggests, be in as much trouble as if he were trying to summarize the One thousand and one nights in one single page. The book never ceases to lose balance, in virtue of a genial game that relaxes the paces only to reveal, page after page, how much it has been thought out and meticulously regulated. The book literally becomes off-centre: from Hicham and the 21st century, we go back very far in time to Basra, to Yazid and Malik, the basket maker and the copyist, friends or rather enemies, to Moujiba, Yazid’s wife, or much closer from us ,to the childhood of Layla, Hicham’s mother… The grip is constantly lacking, as the center of gravity keeps slipping away, constantly renewed.

Taken by a gentle dizziness, that only his heroic sense of duty and the deadline for submitting his review make him overcome, will the critic fall back on the moral expression or the intellectual statement that the book expresses? But how to expeditiouslyMansoura Ezeldin’s novel has the brilliance and mystery of a marvelous gem. It brightens up this return to winter wonderfully, in just a few lines, the exhilarating clashes between the schools of religious thought of the eighth century? I say “exhilarating”,  because not only does Mansoura Ezeldin weave them into the tight fabric of her book without the slightest hitch,  but also because these clashes represent the book’s beating heart: the grand questions debated by these thinkers – sin , responsibility – are like a strange multi facetted jewels, endlessly throwing their reflections on all the characters of the book.

Have we put our finger on the book’s backbone? That would be going a little too fast, and forgetting that everything (the use of images — there would be a whole chapter to do on this–, the duplication of characters, the efforts of the thinkers) suggests that this book’s footing is inherently unstable. The center only gives itself by slipping away.