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the Complete Review
the complete review - literature / biography

Traces of Enayat

Iman Mersal

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To purchase Traces of Enayat

Title: Traces of Enayat
Author: Iman Mersal
Genre: Biographical
Written: 2019 (Eng. 2023)
Length: 270 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Traces of Enayat - US
Traces of Enayat - UK
Traces of Enayat - Canada
Sur les traces d'Enayatt Zayyat - France
  • Arabic title: في أثر عنايات الزيات
  • Translated by Robin Moger
  • With several photographs

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Our Assessment:

B : effectively far-reaching search-tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Orient . 3/6/2021 N.L.Aissaoui

  From the Reviews:
  • "Un travail aussi intense que riche qui fait revivre une icône, féministe à son insu. (...) Au fond, il importe peu de connaître les véritables raisons d’une disparition. L’essentiel pour rendre hommage à Enayatt est de reprendre le flambeau légué à celles qui aspirent, comme elle, à vivre libres et qui le clament collectivement haut et fort en souvenir de cet héritage littéraire et tellement politique." - Nadia Leila Aissaoui, L'Orient

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Traces of Enayat is an in-search-of-an-author story, as Iman Mersal recounts looking for traces of Enayat al-Zayyat, an Egyptian author who committed suicide when she was just in her mid-twenties, in 1963, and whose only novel, Love and Silence, was only published posthumously in 1967
       Mersal first discovered the novel in 1993. Its history was unusual, even beyond its delayed publication -- it was made into both a film and a radio serial in the 1970s, yet: "the novel itself remained entirely absent from every history of twentieth-century Egyptian and Arabic literature". The novel -- and the mystery of the woman behind it -- clearly make a strong impression on Mersal, and eventually she makes a greater effort to learn more about the author and the circumstances around her life, death, and writing -- wondering, however:

Was I running away, escaping my own life by chasing clues into the life of a woman who wrote a single novel and died before she could see it published ? Hadn't I read her novel several times already ? How significant a novel was it anyway ? Enough for me to go searching for its author ? Was it her decision to end her life that drew me to her, or the thought of her unrealized potential ?
       Mersal wanders through Cairo -- a city to which she has close ties, but which she long ago abandoned to live in Canada -- and meets with some who knew and knew of Enayat, piecing together various parts of her life. Growing up in an intellectual family, Enayat went to the German School in Cairo, but did not pursue her studies and married instead. She had a son, but separated from her husband, petitioning for divorce already in 1959, and was worried about losing custody of her son -- a worry that may have played a role in her suicide. As Mersal describes in some detail, Egyptian law -- specifically 'Law 25' -- disadvantaged women greatly when seeking divorce, a situation that would only be rectified in the mid-1970s. Certainly, Enayat's struggles to cut her ties to her husband, and to keep her son, weighed heavily on her.
       Enayat's novel was turned down for publication -- though as Mersal learns, even that wasn't as straightforward as commonly thought. Enayat killed herself shortly thereafter -- suggesting she was crushed by the rejection of her work.
       Mersal does come to learn more, in some cases throwing a different light on what she thought she had known. Among the places she finds considerable documentation is the German Archaeological Institute where Enayat worked, where, with German thoroughness: "The institute kept records of everything. It terrified me", which also provides connections to the subject of the next novel Enayat had hoped to write, Ludwig Keimer.
       Mersal's account begins with her looking for Enayat's burial place -- and closes with her finding out what happened to it, allowing also for a neat ending to Mersal's quest-tale (as she also points out that: "multiple endings can sit alongside one another in a single story, as we know"). As she comes to realize, due to the fact that so little is known about Enayat, and so little of her and her work remains, the destruction of her archive: "sent me after the traces of its erasure and showed me that my true ambition was not to see her life laid out in the pages of a book".
       So, of course, the whole exercise is as much a journey Mersal undertakes for her own sake -- one of self-discovery, among other things. So also, for example, she realizes: "I would never have revisited my archive had it not been for my interest in Enayat". Able to identify with many of Enayat's struggles, Mersal can say -- addressing her memory directly --: "You will always be part of my journey".
       It all makes for a quite interesting mix of biography of an elusive figure and of self-reflection. Readers do get a decent sense of Enayat (and the times and circumstances she lived in) -- if not, perhaps, her literary work -- and Mersal's explorations are quite well-presented (and certainly as revealing about her as about her subject).

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 March 2024

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Traces of Enayat: Reviews: Iman Mersal: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Egyptian-born author Iman Mersal (إيمان مرسال) teaches at the University of Alberta. She was born in 1966.

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© 2024 the complete review

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