Right at the start I have to admit that I did not read the original Arabic version of this book written by Razan al-Maghrabi. My grasp of languages is limited and does not include Arabic. I have read the Dutch translation that was published in the very same year as the original publication.
Let us travel to Tripoli, the capital of the North African country Libya. Here we find a ‘group’ of women and the odd man. Most of them live and work in a block of apartments. Central to the story is the writer. She looks for stories, lines, ideas for her writing. Who can supply her with sufficient ideas, a complicated life, a remarkable event that she can use in weaving her next books. She is searching but at the same time she tries to stay aloof. She tries to avoid inviting the other women to her place. But slowly but surely she gets involved, while her husband is often abroad.
One lady who comes into her life is Bahiedja, who cleans and serves and moves from one place to the other. She enters the life of the writer who sees an opportunity for book material when Bahiedja tells her she has plans to board a boat to travel to Europe to find a better life. She gives Bahiedja a small recorder so she can record her journey while she travels. Later she will send it to the writer who will turn it into a story. There is one complication though, Bahiedja has unofficially adopted a young girl, left by her mother.
Through Bahiedja we meet other women from all kinds of places, like Morocco and Iraq. Women looking for a good life. Women looking for love and relationships with husbands and lovers. Women who gossip and who try to make the best of life.
Men are in the background, like mr. Abdelmadjied, the first employer of Bahiedja, who had a relationship with the writer. Or Kamal the lover of Jusra, one of the women. Mr. Rida is the caretaker of the block of apartments and he travels the seas with Bahiedja to get to Europe.
Some of the women try to get the attention of the writer for their lifestories. They tell stories about love and disaster (sometimes the very same thing).
Towards the end of the story news get in that the block of apartments will be broken down. The writer will move to the villa of her husband. The ‘group’ of women falls apart. No more stories of love and hidden relationships. No more hiding places in hard times. No more female support. No more stories for the writer.
At times I found it hard to find out who was who in the story. The protagonists are seen from different perspectives. I made notes that helped me trace the developments in the individual lives.
Razan al-Maghrabi – Nisa al-Rih – 2015