Friday, July 11, 2008

Book Review

Book Review: Miss Egypt (ميس ايجيبت) by Soheir El Mosadefa: This is a controversial book, no doubt about it. It pushes envelopes, hits nerves and seethes with anger. El Mosadefa pulls us in with an opening chapter that makes us think this is going to be an intriguing and suspenseful murder-mystery; after all, the book begins with the murder and sexual mutilation of the young Miss Egypt who is a candidate for the upcoming Miss Universe pageant. An aging detective (who might be psychic) leads the investigation which slowly turns into an obsession for him and his son (who is a successful filmmaker). As the detective tries to make sense of the violent murder and his son is beset by sexual hallucinations in which he is visited by the dead Miss Egypt, we the readers valiantly try to keep up with everything that is going on and with an array of mostly unlikable characters whose speeches soon begin to gnaw on the nerves.
This is an intriguing book, but it is also tremendously frustrating. It seems that the author wanted to mix many genres to produce something unique, and although she has marginally succeeded, that doesn't take away from the fact that by the second half of the book the narrative becomes a chore to get through, and the story veers away from the murder-mystery angle and becomes a socio-political commentary on what one of the characters describes as the "ugliness" that is swallowing contemporary Egypt whole.

Despite being a daring and singular piece of work, the author's verbose style, heavy-handed approach and annoyingly meandering plot-lines combine to make it an ultimately disappointing.

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