Under the Copenhagen sky
| Tahta sama’ copenhagen AL NADAWI Hawra
Dar al-saqi , Lebanon , Beirut , 2010 , 392 pages
Hoda, in her early twenties, has written her story in Danish and contacts Rafed via e-mail, an Iraqi translator also living in Denmark in his late thirties, for him to translate her work into Arabic. She says she’s met him before, but he won’t remember. Resisting her at first, Rafed, as he translates her work, slowly falls obsessively in love with her.
Hoda and Rafed’s stories, although different, mirror each other. Independent at first, their paths will intersect. Hoda was born in Copenhagen, daughter to an intellectual man and a liberated woman, who fled Saddam Hussein’s regime and sought political asylum in the early eighties. Speaking Danish as her mother tongue, Hoda does not at first realize she is different from her blond classmates. With time, as she reaches early adolescence, all of her contrasting being will make her feel that this is not her land, it is ‘their’ land, these heirs of the Vikings. Unknowingly living a deep identity crisis, Hoda is trying to understand who she is. A task made even more difficult by the changes taking place around her. Her mother, moved by a deep longing for her homeland, influenced by the new wave of immigrants in the early nineties, gets close to the circle of conservative Iraqis. From a secular and liberated woman, Hoda’s mother turns into a traditionalist, hanging embroidered verses of the Quran at home, and most importantly wearing the veil, and imposing it upon her daughters as well.
As he discover Hoda’s past, Rafed’s passion swells, a story told in alternating chapters. Addicted to her story at first, and to the young girl he reads about, his infatuation for the author gets more and more intense. Living an ordinary, somewhat dull married life, Rafed feels trapped. Like all immigrants, including Hoda, Rafed also desperately looked for some reference point in his new home. He thought he had found it in Chaza, a young Danish woman born from Iraqi parents. But the gap between them is wide: She is a second generation immigrant, while he is from the first.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Hoda’s writing is nothing bu a long love letter to Rafed, whom she met years ago, when she was a shy invisible teen-ager. It is also a love letter to Copenhagen, the city of all possibilities, which the young woman sometimes hated when she felt rejected, but has learned to make hers and love.
Hawra Al-Nadawi’s first novel is a clever insight into the complexity of immigrants’ lives. Their difficult relations to each other, to different generations of immigrants, to the country that hosts them, to the country they left and to its values which they almost sanctify. Revolving around the intricate issue of identity, the novel nevertheless remains first and foremost, the story of a girl trying to define herself.
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RAYA has world rights to this title.
Danish, C&K Forlag
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