allusions which, making its way past censorship and national borders, delves deep into the stain of violence that sickens the Arab psyche. The novel is based on a conflict between art, love and life on the one hand, and disease, violence and religious fundamentalism on the other. The battleground on which the conflict plays out is at once the human body and the body of Arab society, where deliverance is found only by those who cling to their passion for life, art and freedom.
In this novel, Sobh exemplifies the disease afflicting Arab states that languish beneath the weight of violent religious fundamentalism through the body of her protagonist, Basma. After developing a severe neurological disorder, Basma’s condition deteriorates whenever she witnesses news broadcasts showing the orgies of rape, murder and torture being indulged in by the blind followers of tyrannical, criminal organizations. At one point in the narrative, Sobh compels her heroine to wonder: “Did I make myself ill, or is it my country that’s made me ill?” (p. 20).
Sickened by ISIS-like organizations (Sunni and Shia alike), Arab citizens have been robbed of their passion for freedom, culture and beauty. So long as these sightless, brutal entities exist, there will be no well-being, safety or health for anyone. The Arabs who are sick and imprisoned today are the same Arabs who once enjoyed centuries of flourishing creativity, art and culture. Aimless, displaced, and disease-stricken, life is as much a curse to them as death is. Describing her condition, the protagonistnarrator says: “Sometimes I’m lost to myself. I lose track of when I was born, of how old I am. I even lose track of my here and now. I can’t tell where I am: am I in some wrecked, bloodstained room in Syria, or Iraq, or Libya, or Yemen? Or am I in a country where this room is all that’s left?” (p. 10).
To Love Life is a narrative cry of rage in the face of alien, absurd religious fundamentalisms. It is a novel in search of the Arab soul, and in search of a way to cleanse it of the stains of blood, violence and obscurantism that have taken it over in recent years.
In the following exchange, conducted in Beirut, Katia al-Tawil interviews Alawiya Sobh about her newest novel and the ideas she hopes to convey through its characters and events.
70 BANIPAL 70 – SPRING 2021
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