July 13, 2023
ORIENT XXI reviews Ezledin’s ‘The Orchard of Basra’

ORIENT XXI reviews Ezledin’s ‘The Orchard of Basra’

Published by ORIENT XXI, on July 7 2023

Hisham navigates in a dream between contemporary Cairo and 8th-century Basra, where Islamic thought is taking shape. In this parallel world, he encounters his doppelganger, Yazid, who frequents the circle of rationalist theologians. With “The Gardens of Basra,” Egyptian novelist Mansoura Ez-Eldin brings back illustrious characters from Islamic history to engage in a dialogue with the living.

Is it possible to abolish time and space while remaining within them? The answer is obviously no! But the Egyptian novelist Mansoura Ez-Eldin tells us something entirely different in her latest novel, “The Orchards of Basra.” Yes, it is possible to be a contemporary of the 8th and 21st centuries at the same time; yes, it is possible to daydream while contemplating an uncertain horizon. What is this novel about? Initially, it begins with doubt, but ultimately ends with conviction. The protagonist expresses it clearly:

I still come back to my certainty that time is a flowing river and space is an illusion, that our true space is the cradle of our souls and that mine is suspended over there, in [Basra].

In the intoxication of time, reason regained, and in the dream, the real, followed by the desire for a radiant future, the pursuit of an endless quest. Two lives are hardly enough to accomplish it all.


The book, the dream, the philology, the philosophy, the body, the desire, the asceticism, the white flower and its fragrance. This is the fictional universe of Mansoura Ez-Eldin, the bewildering world of the quintessential fantastic man, Hisham Khattab, who (re)becomes Yazid Ibn Abihi, the man in an endless quest for self-discovery. And all of this is accomplished with a striking mastery of language registers from two eras, the classical age of Islam in Basra and contemporary Cairo, along with a meticulous use of Sufi concepts, dreams, and reincarnation at the forefront. Evoking a radiant past, but without any nostalgia, “The Orchards of Basra” revives, with a masterful art that alternates between scenes, eras, and inner monologues, and skillfully handles language levels, illustrious characters from the history of Islam to engage in a close dialogue with the living, in order to ascertain whether the scholars of the city still exist in their former disappearance or, on the contrary, have reclaimed their rightful place within Mirbad.