| Ra’ihat al-Qirfah
Dar al-adab , Lebanon , Beirut , 2008 , 167 pages
It is late at night, and Hanan sees a ray of light under her husband’s bedroom door. She opens the door to a horrific sight, that of her old husband in bed with her beloved maid Alia. Blinded by anger and rage, Hanan throws Alia out in the middle of the night. She watches Alia walk away, hoping she will turn back, and bitterly regrets having pushed her lover away.
Alia, who hasn’t turned twenty yet, has been Hanan’s maid for over eight years. She hasn’t heard from her family ever since her father brought her to the villa, in exchange of some money. She didn’t suspect the man had run off with the money, and didn’t think her mother was totally ignorant of her whereabouts. Leaving home and being sold to the owners of this villa, she thought, would help her mother, bothers and sisters out. They all lived in a single room in the ghetto, its walls and ceiling made of tin, under the tyranny of the father, a useless brutal man.
Life is not worth much in the ghetto, especially that of little girls. This is how Alia grew up to be so fierce. She was eight years old, and would carry a knife when she went out collecting the garbage for a few pennies. But even that didn’t prevent her from being raped by the leader of the garbage collectors. At least she got her revenge. She scratched his face with her knife, and didn’t let herself die of shame, like her old paralyzed sister, who had been repeatedly raped by their neighbor in that same tin room she couldn’t leave.
Alia walks away from the villa, with nowhere to go. She didn’t love Hanan, but felt safe in the golden cage. Being Hanan’s lover was an easy game she played in exchange of a little comfort and piece of mind. She heads towards the ghetto, fearing the encounter with her father, recalling the misery and smell of rubbish she thought she had left behind, holding her little knife tight as she feels unsafe again in the deserted streets of this rich neighborhood.
As Hanan watches her leave, she remembers her own despair of quite a different kind. That of a lonely wealthy woman, married to an old cousin against her will, a quiet disgusting man, with a skin as thick as that of a crocodile’s, and who smells of death. Hanan’s life may be smooth, and the steam of her bath smell good of cinnamon, but it is desperately empty, deprived of any sense. The two women’s encounter was unlikely anywhere in the city except in the house, where Alia was the maid during the day, and the lover at night. Two tormented women who somehow brought comfort to each other, and yet still engaged in a relationship of power and control over each other.
The time frame of the novel is set between the moment Alia walks out the door, and the moment Hanan, suddenly panic stricken with the idea of losing her forever, thrusts out of her house early in the morning, into her car, looking for her. A few, yet intense, hours of these two women’s lives give us a quick glimpse on the Syrian contemporary society from a very unusual angle.
as-Safir, Inaya Jaber | January 29th, 2008
In your new novel “Cinnamon”, we feel your narrative energy, and your endless resources for narration and story telling. You write short sentences which do not encumber the essence of the scenes you depict. Your writing is as light as a camera that swiftly captures faces and torments.
I was preparing a scenario for a documentary on the belt of misery in Damascus, and was out with a director friend of mine to take some pictures of a neighborhood in preparation of the filming. We stopped at a corner, close to an buildup of garbage. Suddenly, a little girl stepped out from behind the heap of rubbish. She looked at me very intensely, and was carrying a white plastic bag, full of empty glass bottles. She looked at us with great hatred. Her look penetrated me. I felt an urge to cry. As I was looking at her, I felt I was wiped out by the heaviness of her look. She looked like a small animal.
While I was regularly going to this neighborhood, I was also working on a research on the violence made to women. Among the different interviews, was one with a little girl in Alia’s age. She had tried to kill her employer, after having worked for her for several years. The woman had sexually abused her.
I was very close to both these worlds. The world of great misery, and the world of wealthy women, surrounded with loneliness and despair, and suspected with secret relationships they would fear to be uncovered.
Other represented titles by this author
RAYA has the world rights to this title.
Cinnamon was sold to:
Castelvecchi (2010), Italy
Arabia books Haus (2013), UK
Buchet-Chastel (2013), France
Ordfront (2013), Sweden
Cappelen Damm (2013), Norway