Review: The Tent by Miral al-Tahawy
Title: The Tent
Author: al-Tahawy, Miral
Length: 130 pages
Publisher / Year: American University in Cairo Press / 1998 originally published in 1996 as al-Khibaa’
Source: AUC Bookstore, Tahrir campus
Why I Read It: It sounded really interesting.
Date Read: 31/03/12
Magical and engaging, in this book al-Tahawy tells the story of the youngest bedouin daughter in a land-owning family. She and the rest of the family of females live in seclusion by the whims of their mostly absent patriarchal father and strict and mean grandmother. Fatima, the youngest daughter, is slowly going crazy due to the seclusion and the lack of stimulation in her life. All that she witnesses over the course of her young years only adds to her madness as she slowly descends into herself and her fantasies of mythical creatures who keep her company.
The grandmother character shows the ways in which women conform to the patriarchal standards and even prop them up themselves once they are in a position to exert power themselves. The father shows his love to his daughters by spoiling them, but what affection and attention he gives ultimately does more harm than it does good. In addition, a white lady, Anne, takes Fatima in for a time and tries to help her but through a colonizers attempt to assist does even more harm. In this case, Anne exoticizes Fatima, making her into a parrot – learned but still (according to Anne) a useless country girl.
The book is written with a dream-like atmosphere and the constant time and focus changes make it seem like we are in Fatima’s head and experiencing the confusion and lack of structure with her. I would love to know more about the folk tales which al-Tahawy references, as well as the significance of the number 7 in these, which is repeated again and again. Anyone who enjoys literary fiction will find a lot to enjoy in this read, especially if you enjoy reading about mental illness, folk tales, and culture and customs.