Book Review: From a life of suffering to winning the Nobel Prize

Ossama Lotfy Fateem , Monday 13 Dec 2021

Al Tholathaa Baad El-Asr (Tuesday Afternoon), by Nahla Abu El-Ezz, Cairo: Dream Ben Publishing House, 2021.

Al Tholathaa Baad El-Asr novel

In her first novel, author Nahla Abu El-Ezz chose a straightforward style to tell the story of an Egyptian woman who wins the Nobel Prize in literature.

The story’s protagonist was born without a uterus, an abnormality that made her life miserable and even made her own mother consider her a liability. In the mother’s eyes, she was an incomplete woman and her birth defect should remain a secret. 

Describing the psyche of such a woman is a hard task, but Abou El-Ezz managed to the best of her ability to pass along the feelings of an “incomplete” woman to the reader. No one can really know how a woman born with such a congenital flaw feels or deals with life. Women who are born with such a defect would probably not talk about it or would not be able to describe their feelings. After all, what good would it do to speak about such a sensitive issue?

The writer skillfully puts the reader into the character’s shoes. The narration is told in first person, and the novel is simply about a Nobel Prize winner telling her story. 

The story begins with our heroine Nevine getting ready for a TV interview after winning the Nobel Prize, her first ever TV interview. Just this fact puts the reader on alert. We go on to read about an extraordinary person, someone who achieved the dream of all writers. Then the story uses the flashback technique to tell us what this woman did to become who she is.

Describing her relationship with her mother was the most awkward part in the novel. The mother was beautiful, full of femininity, and was able to control her father totally. He simply was a man in love and would never contradict his wife in anything she wanted or in her way of treating or mistreating her daughter. The mother, once she learned about her daughter’s condition, was heartbroken and hateful towards her daughter. The mother eventually favored her son in everything including care and love, in addition to financing his lavish lifestyle and his failed business ventures. With such care, the brother turned out to be an irresponsible loser.

The daughter, on the other hand, took all this with servility and accepted her mother’s humiliation; eventually she exploded one day and yelled that she did not choose her fate. Their relationship became more distant after that confrontation but the humiliation from the mother lessened. 

Waiting in the studio for the interview was a chance for Nevine to reflect on her meager love life, the chances she missed in finding a man, she simply remained in her world refusing to get into a relationship or a marriage in order not to deprive her potential husband of children. Even when she actually fell in love, she ended the relationship for the same reason. 

The writer is clever in not mentioning many details about Nevine’s novels or the great writings that made her win such a prize. She was simply describing the woman and her suffering in life. But when the novels are mentioned, it is in the form of a question from someone who did not read them. The reputation of Nevine’s novels was that they were full of blasphemy and heresy, the usual nonsense that has become the norm in Egyptian society nowadays. Any writer who uses his or her creativity and imagination can be accused of being a heretic.

Our Nobel Prize winner is an isolated character, her social life is slim to none, her academic life is active and all the characters in her life are marginal. She is someone who built her status by herself through hard work. 

The real novelty in Tuesday Afternoon is creating an Egyptian female writer who wins a Nobel Prize in literature. The notion has been uttered and the dream might come true.

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