‘The memory of jasmine’ by Nadia Leila Aissaoui, L’Orient-Le-Jour

7 March 2023 43 views No Comment Email This Post Email This Post Print This Post Print This Post

Mansoura Ezeldin bookA review by Nadia Leila Aissaoui, for L’Orient-Le-Jour, February 2nd, 2023


The Orchards of Basra by Mansoura Ez-Eldin, translated from Arabic (Egypt) by Philippe Vigreux, Sindbad/Actes-sud, 2023, 224 p.

In this captivating and remarkably translated novel, Mansoura Ez-Eldin takes us on a round trip in time and space, between Cairo and Basra, to meet timeless characters in a story that subtly mixes fiction and historical fact.

Hishâm Khattab, a young Cairo native, an unemployed geological engineer, has an ardent passion for ancient manuscripts. He is particularly interested in the history of Islam and the great Muslim thinkers who founded or nourished the theological reflection of various currents such as Sufism, Ibadism, Kharijism, Shiism or Mutazilism.

Failing to be able to make a living from his profession, he trades in old books as his livelihood. One day, while waiting for a presidential convoy to pass, he saw in the crowd a young woman, Mervat, holding in her hands the Great Book of the Interpretation of Dreams attributed to Imam Muhammad Ibn Sîrin, dating from the VIIIth century. Intrigued by this woman in whom he finds a disturbing resemblance to the muse and wife of Marc Chagall, he approaches her and from this conversation is born a relationship nourished by their common passion for art and literature.


Between contemporary Cairo and Basra at the end of the 8th century, captivating life stories of characters who witnessed an era of notorious intellectual effervescence on the one hand and a period of generalized decline on the other hand are woven. From these places and their contexts separated by more than a thousand years, we hear echoes of the stories of love, friendship, power relations and betrayal of which the banks of the Nile and the gardens of southern Iraq, among others, have been witnesses.


In a writing that maintains a dialectical relationship between memory and imagination, the writer reveals her deep attachment to the theme of identities and origins. The anchoring of the story in places to which its own history refers abounds in this direction. Because it is indeed from a geographical space that springs an identity and a life shaped by an imaginary endowed with facts and adorned with beliefs and popular tales.

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