Saturday, June 8, 2013

Review "Ribbons & Heels" by Tarek Hassan Refaat


Part of modern day Egypt is the emergence of Egyptian authors who choose to write in English. Most of our most successful authors write in Arabic, and after achieving fame, their work is picked up and professionally translated.
However, there have always been Egyptian authors who wrote in English about the politics, history, and heritage through AUC Press (aucpress.com). Then, there were a handful of authors who wrote in English at award winning/literature levels such as Ahdaf Soueif and Waguih Ghali.
With more Egyptians identifying with English as their language of creativity, we find a wave of new and exciting authors in many differing genres. This has been enabled by the parallel emergence of new publishing houses willing to put a voice to these authors like Saray Publishing (saraypublishing.com) and Shabab Books (shababbooks.com). The third possibility of publishing in English is through Amazon, and self-publishing. This is what authors like Amira Aly and Tarek Refaat have done.
Tarek Refaat’s "Ribbons and Heels" fits well into the Chick-Lit genre, it’s another take on modern day Cairene relationships. It reminded me of Inji Amr’s “To Each Her Own”, although hers was non-fiction. Inji had explained to me that her drive behind writing this book was that she felt that none of the books out in English represented who she or her friends were. Tarek Refaat goes on with that message and continues by adding to that painting that Inji had started. He helps readers understand the challenges that face modern day Cairene relationships, giving a voice to both the male and female characters.
"Ribbons and Heels" is Refaat's second novel, it was published February 2013. His first novel "Ruptured" (May 2011) is about a woman who was raped and the social/societal implications. This second novel is a much lighter theme, while still shedding light on society and family values. It’s an easy read, and at times I wish Refaat would prolong some of the dialogue which seems to end abruptly, because as the reader you want to get to know the characters more. The Chick-Lit genre is really shaping in Egypt, and finding both readership through books like "Ribbons and Heels" and viewership with movies ever since "Sahar El-layali" (2003) and recently with tv shows like "Hekayat Banat"(2012). Refaat does this genre well and is more successful than others of the same genre at Shabab books.
The four female characters meet for coffee, talk on their mobiles, go to work, discuss their families, all the while trying to work out their love lives. Each character is different, and has her different quirks, and one is easily pulled into their world and roots for the happy ending which the author happily hands over. All the characters live and work in Cairo, they are mostly upper class women, who have the means to lead successful independent lives. The issue of whether independence/freedom must be sacrificed in order to enter in a relationship is another of the themes, and is also happily resolved.
Overall an easy quick read with only a hundred pages, with a feel good ending.

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