Faeries of the Nile



Faeries of the Nile

by Mansoura Ez-Eldin
Short story

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Zeenat is captivated by the faeries she espies across the Nile. Their fluid forms blend and blur, trickling through the prose. Sparsity of punctuation allows words to commingle and fizz in the solvent of each sentence. Dizzying and impervious to grammatical restraint, the third-person retelling of Zeenat’s pleasure poses us problems. Either the abstract imagery suggests events of an unearthly nature, or it protects a private experience, the specifics kept shtum.

Conversely, the testimony of Zeenat’s husband is told to us first-hand. Hunched italics crowd together as he leans towards us, whispering his bewilderment. Hoping to uncover the reasons for his wife’s distraction, he scours her face for clues, frustrated to find her expression ‘submerged under wrinkles and creases’. By the tale’s culmination, though, he finds a semblance of understanding with the lines, acknowledging them to be ‘traces of grief and disappointment’.

Words by Elizabeth Brown

The story of Zeenat, the woman who ‘lives in the stone house hugged by the Nile’, is narrated from two angles: one view from her husband, speaking in first-person, the other from an omniscient narrator. As Mansoura Ez-Eldin alternates between the two, the reader patches together the sombre trajectory of an abusive marriage and the loss of a child. Confined to his bed through illness, Zeenat’s husband is left to watch her through the window, almost voyeuristically, his thoughts underlining her bleak predicament.

The lonely, monotonous routine of Zeenat’s life is pierced with climactic passages, in which she observes and interacts with the ‘faeries’, which are initially ‘white and cloud like’, but morph into ‘phantom women’. As they intertwine, they beckon Zeenat towards them, offering her a rare source of joy. Her desire, though preceded by fear, is tinged with sexuality. These intense experiences are poignantly juxtaposed with a numb existence, creating meaningfulness in ‘the moment she is living now’.

by Sophia Martin-Pavlou

More to discover

Read Faeries of the Nile on Google Books, where it is included as part of an anthology titled The Granta Book of the African Short Story. Pauls Toutonghi has interviewed Mansoura Ez-Eldin for The Rumpus.

Question of the day

Does ambiguity make art less relatable? Share your thoughts on Facebook, Patreon, or Twitter.

To unambiguous people, it may. But to value art only in terms of our relatability or identification makes for very poor aesthetic experiences.

– Cristina Álvarez López, film critic (via The Brief →)

I think it makes it more relatable. I like not knowing all the answers. I like feeling that the artist trusts me.

– Julianne Pachico, short story writer (The Lucky Ones) (via The Brief →)

Read more: Short stories