Mansoura Ezz El-Din: Writing is not a hiding place, but a space for confrontation

The writer Mansoura Ezz El-Din (1976) has drawn attention since the publication of her first literary work, and as indicated by six novels, three short story collections and a book on travel literature; We find that she is keen to resemble no one but herself, by paving a special path in literary writing, which she began with her collection of short stories “Shaking Light”, which was published in 2001. It was followed by works that varied between novel and story, some of which were translated into English, Italian and German. Her name was included in the “Beirut 39” list, which included 39 prominent Arab writers under the age of 40 in 2009. Her book “Steps in Shanghai: On the Meaning of the Distance between Egypt and China” won the Ibn Battuta Prize for Travel Literature in 2020. She co-authored the book ” Arabic at the Test of Communication Networks” issued by the Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts in Beirut in 2016.

She won the Best Arabic Novel Award at the Sharjah International Book Fair in 2014 for her novel “The Emerald Mountain”, and the Best Short Story Collection Award from the Cairo International Book Fair in the same year, for her work “Towards Madness”. Her novels reached short and long lists in several Arab prizes, such as the Booker Prize, the Sheikh Zayed Prize, and others. After graduating from Cairo University, she worked as an editor in the newspaper “Akhbar Al-Adab”, and she is currently the deputy editor-in-chief of the same newspaper, which was founded by the late writer Gamal Al-Ghitani.

In her literary path, she succeeded in making, through a quarter of a century of writing, an achievement, in which the distances between contradictions dissolve, and it carries unique aesthetic characteristics at the level of the language and structure of the narrative. In our interview with her, Mansoura Ezzedine paints a picture of a writer who was unique in an ambiguous environment, and a cultural reality surrounded by thorny issues.

Migration and its reverse

Mansoura Ezz El-Din grew up in Gharbia Governorate, in the heart of the Nile Delta, and then migrated to Cairo, which raises a question about the impact of this, on the presence of the duality of the branch and the center and its contradictions in her works, but she insists that the presence of this duality in some of her works was marginal, and she says: In most of the novels that present this duality, the focus is on moving from the countryside to the city, but this “theme” is not presented to me in the usual way, but perhaps the opposite is the case, that is, the return of the character from the city to the countryside.” And she adds: “In the novel “Maryam’s Labyrinth”, we find that the labyrinth is primarily psychological and temporal, and not necessarily a spatial labyrinth as it might appear on the surface. Therefore, Cairo exists and Saraya al-Taji as well, but they are employed to reverse this state of labyrinth. Atlas Al-Khafa “The presence of the countryside is faint, as it is the place from which the two characters, Laila and Murad, came in order, and it exists as much as it takes to draw the features of each artistic character.”

She continues: “When I write about a place, I like to convey everything related to it: topography, sounds, smells, plants, and climates. I am also concerned with its impact on the characters who live in it and their interaction with it. This happens when I write about a rural or urban environment or a city like Prague. In “Shadows Shadows”, or Shanghai in “Steps in Shanghai”, or even about an imagined geography, as in “Emerald Mountain” and “Shelter of Absence” and others.

On the maturity of the creative experience and the stimuli of creativity, Ezz El-Din asserts that every writer is the product of a complex, cumulative and multi-layered process – some of which are ambiguous layers on himself – of readings, memories, imaginations and experiences. She says: “The issue is not linear, and it is not a mathematical equation that leads its introductions to predetermined results, similar to what entered into its formation. Rather, the deeper effects are not easily noticed, and it is difficult to track them because they are not in the techniques of writing, or in clear similarities, but in the way of seeing the world And interact with him, and it is difficult to return it to one person, or even to the readings alone.”

Between journalism and literature

Since graduating from the Faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University, Mansoura Ezz El-Din has practiced journalism alongside creative writing, which raises a question about the impact of combining them, and whether one serves the other or hinders it, which she explains: “It depends on how the writer deals with Both, and to set his priorities from the beginning. Is the priority for him because he is a creator and journalism is a job for him to earn a living, or is he a journalist and creative writing is on the sidelines of his primary profession?

She continues: “From the beginning, my priority was, and still is, for creative writing. The press accustomed me to writing as a daily activity, and to organize my time and work under pressure and according to a specific schedule. In contrast, it gives those who work in it experiences and life experiences, which may It is difficult to find in other professions, and I think its main problem is that it is a very demanding and time-consuming profession, so it is important for those who work in it to arrange their priorities accurately.”

Hobby is not the opposite of professionalism

After a busy creative career, Ezz El-Din still treats writing as a hobby, as she is always keen to describe it, and explains this by saying: “I do not mean, of course, the meaning that might be understood from the word hobby, and that is why I do not see it here as a contradiction to professionalism. On the spirit of enthusiasm and fondness and not expecting anything in return from outside the writing itself, i.e. the combination of professionalism, diligence and adherence to a regular writing routine, and not turning it into a mere mechanical act that I do with my mind to obtain certain gains from it, if I do not obtain them, I will be frustrated or bitter. itself is the end, the goal, and the source of gratification.

And she continues: “I remember the joy that reading provided me with as a child, and how it was my guide and guide in a world that seemed to me at the time enigmatic and highly complex, which immediately brings me back to the meaning of being a writer, far from any temptations or other gains, which some might expect from writing.”

Mansoura Ezz El-Din’s works have been translated into more than 10 languages, which represents a great achievement that prompts questions about what translation adds to the writer and the secret of his desire to translate his works into other languages. Ezz El-Din answers: “From my personal experience of translating more than one work for me, it is a positive experience in general in terms of testing the text in a different cultural environment and in a language other than its original language, and in terms of the surprises and discoveries this may bring, such as meeting a reader from A culture far from yours, to tell you that he found himself or his city in your written book about an experience that you thought was purely Egyptian, for example.

Regarding the necessity of paying attention to translation, she says: “It is sufficient to imagine a world in which there is no translation, and those belonging to a culture do not read what is written in their mother tongue,” stressing that the denial of reading what philosophers, thinkers and important writers write because of the language barrier; It is like a biblical curse.

She believes that it is quite logical for countries to support the translation of their literature, and are interested in it being published in major foreign publishing houses, especially since many countries do this and offer grants to support translation, stressing that such support does not exist in the Arab world except in a few cases. In some of them, translations are only published locally and are left in storage. In most cases, Arabic literature is translated on the initiative of translators, who are enthusiastic about certain works and suggest them to publishers.

Al-Shaliliah Literary

The relationship between literature and criticism is still controversial, and criticism is still accused of paralysis and interest. Izz al-Din comments on this controversy, saying: “We cannot evaluate the critical movement without taking into account the nature of the surrounding reality. The Renaissance is usually comprehensive and characterized by integration between its constituent elements. In the face of such a question, we have to look at the state of the sections of the Arabic language and comparative literature. In our universities, and to the state of cultural journalism and how it is almost disappearing now, with the suspension of many cultural supplements that were strongly present before.”

Regarding what is being raised about paralysis, she affirms that it is not limited to a particular group, but extends to all groups, and sometimes it crosses groups and borders. So you consider it important to judge from the creative works themselves, regardless of any external considerations, because these are general accusations and judgments; They are sometimes used to obfuscate already good deeds.

She asserts that the scene on the ground has exceeded all these considerations, because today’s reader does not resort – in most cases – to critical studies or newspaper reviews, as much as to a site such as “Good Readers”, reading groups on Facebook or the accounts of well-known readers on Twitter and Instagram .

The remarkable thing that Ezz El-Din points out is that the more these media focus on clear rulings and pure praise with general words and expressions, the more this helps to increase the demand for titles. She says, “I notice on Twitter, for example, that there are some people who only post general quotes and praises on book covers, without a single sentence that indicates that they have actually read the book. On the other hand, there are those who read seriously and draw attention to titles that might not have been paid attention to. readers without them.

Writing and Literary Criticism

If the critic expects a good text from the writer, then the writer expects the critic to interpret the text and discover its secrets. Therefore, Ezz El-Din evaluates her experience with criticism, saying: “I started publishing a quarter of a century ago, which is a period during which the writer will be exposed to many types of criticism, including what succeeds.” In illuminating the text and listening to the hidden in its deeper layers, including what is apparent from it, or what reduces it to a group of general statements.But in general, I think that criticism is indispensable, because it places the writer’s hand on his strengths and weaknesses.

And she adds: “I am not talking here about praise or slander, of course, but rather about the ability to read the unspoken, the ability to deconstruct and creative interpretation, away from the memorized school standards, which some apply to all texts, without trying to read the text from within, and according to its suggestions. aesthetics”.

This was justified by what Borges said that Shakespeare, whose texts we are reading now, enriched what is not comparable to Shakespeare as his contemporaries read it, because we read it in our time, in the context of numerous readings and interpretations of his works over the past centuries, emphasizing that this is the richness that he offers Criticism, and multiple readings of creative works.

The current scene and feminist literature

Regarding the current literary scene and whether there are commonalities that unite the book, Ezz El-Din says: “The scene now is very diverse and it is difficult to limit the creativity resulting from it to specific descriptions or features, especially since there is something similar to the juxtaposition of genres and visions. Even in literary eras, where We find very traditional writing similar to what was written in the middle of the twentieth century, along with experimental writing. Writing that proceeds mainly from the subjective, as well as exotic writing.”

And she continues: “There is also a flourishing of altruistic and autobiographical literature, an abundance of detective novels and horror literature, and the beginnings of a revival of comics and graphic novels. This diversity, which may reach the point of dissonance at times, turns any talk of generational classification into a kind of arbitrariness.”

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Feminist literature is one of the very present terminology, and it is another classification that finds acceptance by some and rejection by others, and it may refer the voice of the male narrator in the two novels Izz al-Din “Basateen al-Basra” and “Atlas al-Khafa” to believe that she is trying to escape from this classification. This is what she comments on, saying: “When I published my first novels I was always faced with the question: Why are the heroines of your novels women? Recently I have been frequently asked why the hero in my most recent works is a man. This is repeated with other female writers, while male writers are not asked of this type by anyone. of questions.”

And she continues: “Writing is a space of freedom for me. I do not judge my imagination, and I do not chase it with questions like why this and not that? My favorite response to such questions is: Why not? Let’s try. Writing is also a space for experimentation and confrontation, not a hideout or an escape, in which I face my ghosts and my fears and bring them to scrutiny and deconstruction.”

She adds: “It is possible to write a novel based on a feminist vision with male heroes, and the predominance of female characters in a novel does not necessarily make it a feminist novel. Likewise, a male writer may write a feminist novel. Most importantly, it is unfair to limit a creative work, in one specific category, based on gender Its writer or heroes.If we say that Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” or “The Pianist” by Alfred Jelinek, for example, is a feminist novel, do we mean by this that each of them is limited to this category alone? Certainly not, but some do this and use the categories, whatever type, for reduction and scaling.

In Mansoura Ezz El-Din’s work, there are always psychological and philosophical shades, characterized by a strong presence within the text, and this is what she attributes to the nature of the writer’s interests, which are necessarily reflected in his works. She says: “I am interested in philosophy, psychology, metaphysics, myths, folk tales, and others. It is said that art is the forgotten mother of philosophy, and I say that philosophy can add a lot to creativity, as well as psychology, sociology and history, provided that it is adapted to serve creativity and according to its own terms and requirements and not the other way around.