Writes Salah Elewa
The world we live in is a tough place, and life becomes even tougher when the individuals find themselves face to face with threatening demons and dangers in both their inner and their outer worlds. But there is always hope in the ability of human soul to conjure up the required courage, patience and resilience, and strive to overcome all obstacles and dangers. This is what we witness when we read Sayed Gouda’s latest novel Serina.
The novel narrates the story of a reporter from Hong Kong who aspires to cover the events of Egyptian sit-ons that took place in Cairo around the middle of 2013, an episode in the Arabic spring which culminated in Egypt in February 2011, and is somehow echoed in Hong Kong through a series of protests that overtook Hong Kong towards the end of 2014, attracting the attention of the world for almost three months.
Gouda manages to bring together these events, andhe deftly establishes this link between the two far-removed climes, through Serina, thefemale reporterwho ventures to witness the protests in Egypt first hand, and later witnesses and also takes part in the protests in Hong Kong. Through such different settings the author manages to deal with a number of themes and tropes, manipulating these rich locales and breathtaking events, to talk about the imagined and the real, oppression and resistance, the magnitude of human cruelty and the undying resilience of the human soul.
Such confrontations are also played out in the inner world of the protagonist, as she attempts to confront her inner demons, andstrives to deal with the blurring borders between the real and the imagined, while wrestling with the recurringdelusional thoughts.
The choice of such a protagonist in this context is quite fitting for a number of reasons, the experiences and the tumultuous life of such a Schizophrenic character serves somehow as a metaphor to illuminate, among other things,the schisms that cuts through the souls of persons living between places and cultures, who at times find it difficult to reconcile the divergent elements in their environments or to come to terms with the unsettling events taking place in their inner or outer worlds.
The eventsof the novel oscillate between Egypt and Hong Kong, two places far removed from each other, with no particular common ground, the only thing that unites them is what units all humans, regardless of their country, color or culture. It is the persistent desire in the human soul for dignity, freedom, and justice.
The author sides with the dreamers, who inspite of all the odds, choose to envision a better world. This is clear throughNelson Mandela’s quote which meets you at the first pages of the novel. ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done!’
The novel also serves as a register, which contains in one place a record of the events as they unfolded in both cases, in Egypt and later in Hong Kong. The author made it clear that the events related to the protests are all real. He declares at the outset of the book “All the characters in this novel are fictitious. However, all the interviews are based on real interviews by real protesters.”Which makes the novel bear the hallmarks of the realistic novel, allowing you toexperience thedramatic events in a moving narrative, far removed from the dry form of journalism.
As the events of the novel unfold we are shown that the spilt self of the protagonist is augmented by the experiences she goes through, whether at home or abroad. We are confronted with the divide between the status quo, and the desired change, we witness the split between the actual and the delusional. Such tensions, divisions, and struggles mark both the personal and the public life of the protagonist, the conflicts, both within and without, feed into each other, the violence she witnesseswithin her family is reflected in a more dramatic way in the violence she witnesses first hand in a far larger scale in Egypt and to a lesser extent in Hong Kong.
The irony is that the protagonist, who, at times, is unable to distinguish between reality and imagination, is a reporter, someone whose job is to try and convey the accounts of events as they truly happen. This, of course, problematizes, even further, the notions of truth and reality.
Serina is the third work of fiction by Sayed Gouda, after his debut novelOnce Upon A Time In Cairo and his second novelClosed Gate. And in this work as wellGouda proved to be a cosmopolitan author who tries in this unique fashionto reconcile a number of divergent elements, topics, and ideas. He manages to find subtle underlying and unifying themes, tones and commonalities in locales that seem to have nothing in common;the work’s power also lies in manipulating the conflicts in the real world and using them as a backdrop or a metaphor for the conflicts and tensions warring within the inner world of the main character.
The novel, therefore, serves as a testimony to the fact that no matter what country we belong to, or what language we speak, we all aspire to the basic human needs, dignity, freedom, and justice. Serinathen is a cry against oppression, a clear condemnation of violence, another demonstration that injustice should not be accepted, that acts of repression shouldn’t be passed over in silence.
One of the major success of the novel is resorting to schizophrenia to illuminate the character’s inner and outer worlds, since it is a rich medium to deal with the issues at hand,mostly border crossing themes and tropes, the anxieties of the self, torn between places and cultures, or the traumatic experiences of individuals at pains to reach equilibrium while struggling at the disappearing borders between reality and figments of imagination.
These themes also serve as an appropriate metaphor, which among other things, reflects the state of mind of the author himself, who is not alien to the notions of cosmopolitism and multiculturalism. Such features markGouda’s life and leavetheir impact on most of his works.
Gouda grew up in Egypt but he lives and works in Hong Kong, he writes in English but he also wrote and still writes in Arabic, he is the author of works of poetry and fiction but his career pivots towards the academic circles, in the fields of translation and English and Chinese literatures, beside his academic and literary pursuits, he shows a great interest for a number of other vocations, such as martial arts and painting.
Gouda is an Egyptian writer who ventures into other cultures and opts to write in English (his third language after Arabic and Chinese) in this respect he is reminiscent of writers such as James Joyce, who calls himself “Ireland’s split little pea” (in FinnegansWake), but Gouda also brings to mind Joseph Conrad, another immigrant to the English language who wrote in English,( his third language after French and Polish).
When you consider the diverse vocations and interests of the author, it is not difficult then to conjure up the image of a person who can be the host of many different notions, or one who serves as a site for various, seemingly irreconcilable juxtapositions andtendencies.
Such seemingly reconciled forces have been at work in the writer’s life, which mark the shifting sands of the postmodern author as well as the postmodern subject, always in constant search for the right place, the correct medium, or the appropriate vocation, at a time when the grasp on certainty proves increasingly elusive and arriving at the purity and the sense of the unified self is no longer tenable.
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