Book Review: But it's Mozart! (!و لكنه موتسارت) by Lamiaa Mokhtar: Every once in a while you come across a book that takes you by surprise; not necessarily because it's brilliant, but because it's unique and heartfelt. Lamiaa Mokthar's play, But it's Mozart!, took me by surprise, for several reasons. Firstly, it's a play about the almost mythic rivalry between Mozart and Salieri, and it's written by an Egyptian woman. That, in itself, is something, considering the current state of Egyptian society. Secondly, the play is so compelling and energetic, that, while reading it, one forgets that the play doesn't cover any new ground regarding the subject matter, which is a testament to Mokthar's storytelling talent. But, to me, the most striking aspect about this play is that despite its brevity, it manages to paint both Mozart and Salieri vividly, really bringing them to life. Mokthar makes this feat look easy, but, really, it isn't.
The rivalry between these two legendary composers (which, to this day, some claim is nothing more than a myth, unsupported by facts) has been the subject of numerous written works, most famous of which are Alexander Pushkin's short drama Mozart and Salieri, and Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus, which was adapted into the Oscar-winning film of the same name. Mokthar borrows liberally from these two works; but she also adds another touch that is, arguably, all her own, which is giving the story an almost mythic feel by adding (in the very first scene of the play) the imaginary character of a gypsy that tells a young Salieri that his life will be ruined by the Sin of Envy. The ending, in which the ghost of Mozart's father appears to Mozart to show him the future, also is a brilliant touch, and one which gives the story and the play a bitter-sweet/fairy-tale like atmosphere.
I, for one, would have paid to see this play performed on the stage. But as a book (which the publisher cleverly formats like a novel for easy reading), this is a compelling, one-sitting read, which, if not quite a must for fans of Mozart, is recommended for readers and theatre-buffs looking for something fresh and heartfelt.
* Available from Dar Oktob.