5 May 2011

Latifa Zayyat, The Owner of the House, 1994

Samia’s husband Mohamed is a fugitive political prisoner on the run from the Egyptian police, and as she joins him in hiding, with all the necessary games to conceal identities, her struggle becomes an internal as well as an external one, leaving her with the possibility of being doubly enslaved. This is a novel of metaphor, mostly concerning the parallels of her situation with an individual’s relationship to the state. The narrative occasionally becomes a little disconnected whenever Samia looks inward, giving us, in effect, two stories that have blurred boundaries. It’s a successful novel in getting across its message of escape from both mental and physical oppressions – relevant still to what happened to Egypt in 2011 – but perhaps less successful in terms of narrative, indeed I found myself having to re-read previous paragraphs to recap what appeared to be minor points that were in fact major ones. The Owner of the House requires some close reading to be best understood, and the long introduction is also necessary to ground the story in context, which is partly that of Zayyat’s own life.  PY


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