Item description for Leaves of Narcissus (Winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature) by Somaya Ramadan...
This novel of home and homelessness, of exile both physical and psychological, centers on Kimi, a fragile heroine suffering from a rift in her persona, unable to distinguish between her own pain and the pain of others. For Kimi it is not a simple case of to be or not to be, but rather of how to be in disjointed and contrary times. Leaves of Narcissus, like earlier Arabic novels about East-West encounters by male writers such as Tawfiq al-Hakim, Taha Hussein, and Tayeb Saleh, is about a young Arab student going West in search of education. Here, though, the protagonist is a young woman and her destination is Ireland, a part of the West and at the same time a victim of the ravages of colonialism -- adding ambiguity to the customary representations of the East/West dichotomy. In this captivating novel, Somaya Ramadan displays a rare virtuosity in evoking and interlacing literary motifs -- from the popular to the learned, from the folk to the mythic, from the Egyptian to the Irish -- and poses questions rather than answers, questions that hold a mirror to our selves.
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Studio: American University in Cairo Press
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9.52" Width: 6.08" Height: 0.6" Weight: 0.89 lbs.
Release Date Oct 15, 2004
Publisher American University in Cairo Press
ISBN 9774247272 ISBN13 9789774247279
Availability 0 units.
More About Somaya Ramadan
Somaya Ramadan was born in Cairo in 1951. She received her Ph.D. in English from Trinity College, Dublin. She is a lecturer in English and Translation at the National Academy of Arts.
Reviews - What do customers think about Leaves of Narcissus (Winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature)?
Leaves of Narcissus review Oct 7, 2005
Somaya Ramadan cleverly and artistically creates the character of Kimi and her environment, first seemingly distant from that of the reader. As the book continues, the reader is faced with similarities to themselves and it no longer is the journey of Kimi, but a reflection of mankind. The ideal of an ideal world is shattered, I found in several places the author had put to words thoughts that had long been flying around in my own head. This book about inner and mental chaos I found to produce clarity.
Insightful writing Dec 8, 2003
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. As an avid reader of literary fiction, I found Leaves of Narcissus to be the kind of book that I intentionally seek out to read. Not only did it challenge me as a reader, but it also resonated with me as a woman. Right from the very first lines, the book drew me in: "The moment before submission is the most difficult of moments. This might be the secret to its vital attractiveness-the irresistible finality of it... The chasm before you is featureless: absolutely new, wholly defiant to all powers of imagination" (1). Ramadan is so gifted in describing states of mental being. On the next page when she writes, "...annexing one hour until the next until slumber and nothingness become synonymous" (2), I thought of insomnia and also the urge to lose yourself in sleep-both of which come with depression. She returns to this idea on page 61, writing, "I'm not really resisting death-it's just that I fear the unknown. It's that moment of submission to the unknown. The moment of giving myself up is the only fear I have." I thought these lines applied not only to death, but also to how one feels before taking any great risk. There's a fear that goes along with the ability to see multiple possibilities. In Kimmi's case, she fears what comes after death because she has no concept of what that could be. This kind of fear could precipitate moments of joy, such as falling in love and giving birth, as well, though.
I could go on and on just quoting certain lines from the book because so many of them jumped out at me as being beautifully written and perfectly expressed. Maybe the reason that I enjoyed Leaves of Narcissus to the extent that I did is that I suffer from clinical depression and have a number of friends and family members who are also mentally ill. Therefore so much of Kimmi's struggle and fragmented identity was entirely familiar to me, but yet gave me a new understanding upon reading the novel.
The way that Ramadan picks up on the image of glass and carries it throughout the book was amazing to me. On page ten, after her father equates her mind to a rock, young Kimmi embraces her rock of a brain which is strong enough to shatter glass. Blood and glass enter the story again when Amna tells Kimmi the story of the King of Atlas Mountain (20). Also when Kimmi identifies the "large bell of thick glass" (27) that is surrounding her. I liked how this not only alluded to Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, but also brought back the image of glass as fiercely strong and somewhat dangerous-much like Kimmi's mental state.
Another beautifully written line is on page 23, when Kimmi describes her condition as "[filtering] out all flattering, all hypocrisy, all sham, until nothing remains but the pure essence of irrefutable truth." When I read this line, I wanted to jump up and go find somebody else to share it with because it described a particular state of emotional being so well. It reminded me of the moment of utter depression and despair when you realize that the way you feel is the truth, and if you're able to feel something else, or something better, it is only a lie. Another line that, as a writer and a depressed individual, completely resonated with me is "All stories have already been told. All that can be said has already been said. There is no longer any truth, except in silence. Who cares about a story like this one?" (62). I often get discouraged when writing and think exactly the same thing. She returns on page 92 to these ideas of how "Life grows senile and can no longer be revived."
Finally, I would like to quote perhaps the most meaningful passage, for me. On page 108, Kimmi says,
All of us craft for ourselves those bells that protect us, and we huddle beneath them for a spell until we begin to suffocate-and then we shatter the bell. If we are lucky, we'll meet someone we can love, someone who will help us, and so the bonds are unraveled gently, and we do not notice until after we've noticed that we are breathing without watchful concern or worry.
As a metaphor, I found this to work very powerfully. Not only did it tie together the theme of glass throughout the story, but it also provided a sense of hope for Kimmi's future and thus, vicariously, our own futures as well.
I have no doubt that Somaya Ramadan wrote from personal experience. Her insights were too true and exquisite to be imagined. As a writer, I hope that someday I will be able to take my own experiences with mental pain and existential isolation and turn them into art as beautiful as Leaves of Narcissus.