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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Blue Aubergine

Miral al-Tahawy

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Blue Aubergine

Title: Blue Aubergine
Author: Miral al-Tahawy
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998 (Eng. 2002)
Length: 122 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Blue Aubergine - US
Blue Aubergine - UK
Blue Aubergine - Canada
Die blaue Aubergine - Deutschland
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Anthony Calderbank

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Our Assessment:

B+ : effective, but not easy going

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 10/2/2003 Ludwig Amman
TLS . 7/3/2003 Claudia Pugh-Thomas

  From the Reviews:
  • "Miral al-Tahawy's tongue too has a tendency to looseness, although perhaps she alone is not responsible for this (.....) (C)larity is often sacrificed to the creation of mood, and meaning is sometimes difficult to extricate from the pages of this verbose novel (.....) Al-Tahawy maps persuasively the meanderings of her character's struggle to determine her place in the world. (...) Perhaps there is no meaningful conclusion that Miral al-Tahawy (...) could have reached in her overwhelmingly sorrowful novel." - Claudia Pugh-Thomas, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Blue Aubergine is the story of Nada, born prematurely (hence the name 'blue aubergine', which the infant resembled) during the 1967 Egyptian-Israeli war. The three sections of the book focus on three parts of her life: childhood, her college years, and then her working on her PhD. Throughout, her story is presented in a variety of forms: first, second, and third person, in letters to her brother Nader, even from the perspective of a college roommate.
       After a difficult and premature birth no one expects Nada to survive, but if nothing else, she shows a sort of resiliency. So also after being scarred in a childhood accident that necessitates her jaw being wired shut. But while survival is possible, it is never easy or comfortable. She doesn't fit in at school, and Mom isn't very supportive at home. No wonder that she writes: "I am no good for anything". Even in adulthood she finds:

Now you return more defeated than ever to sit and ponder your failures and scribble down things that aren't stories or poems, just scratches on your face from an old accident.
       At college she wears the veil -- and: "She lengthens her head covering every day so that no details are revealed". She can hide in this way, and so: "For four years no one feels she's really there." But it also walls her off from much of what she longs for. She tears it all off eventually, but it's only a limited liberation, a step in the right direction but not the easy answer to all her problems.
       Many of Nada's longings are romantic, but she can't transcend the barriers she sets up for herself. At college her roommate is Safaa, her "moral and spiritual opposite"; in this section al-Tahawy alternates accounts focussed on Nada with Safaa's first-person account, contrasting their very different lives. Where Nada is almost entirely withdrawn into herself, Safaa needs to mix in company, to live life out -- even if it means suffering abuse at the hands of the man she gives herself to. Safaa's experiences -- sexual and political -- are a sharp contrast to Nada's, but hardly much more satisfying. Safaa is active and involved (as is Nada's brother, Nader), but this is a society that still looks upon this with suspicion.
       A woman is still expected to fulfill a traditional role, and Nada -- unable to meet expectations in the best of circumstances -- recognises that this is also part of what makes life difficult for her. Wearing the veil, for example, allows for the appearance of embracing tradition, but can't change what's hidden underneath. Appropriately, Nada's dissertation is on 'The Dialectic of Rebellion and Gender Oppression'.
       Blue Aubergine isn't easy going (or easygoing): aside from the shifts in voice, it slides from dream to reality, experience to wishful thinking. There's also little finality -- as Nada acknowledges near the end, describing not just a phase in her life but an approach she's taken throughout:
You stop before the end in all your stories and stretch out the threads of the narrative so you don't slip into oblivion.
       For such a short novel, Blue Aubergine covers a lot of ground, from character portraits of Nada's family, including the three very different grand-mothers, and some of her close friends, to the inner turmoil caused by romantic longing for Nada in this culture, along with sharp, brief glimpses of the politics of the times. Challenging, but worthwhile.

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Blue Aubergine: Reviews: Miral al-Tahawy: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Egyptian author Miral al-Tahawy was born in 1968.

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© 2006-2009 the complete review

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