Saturday, May 17, 2014

Book Review: Wesh Kosoof by Doaa Farouk

If you know Doaa Farouk, you probably already know she is one of the very few people, let alone public figures, who don’t wear masks. Whether on her TV show or in her books, she talks directly to the people. She talks, in the most spontaneous way, about things each and every Egyptian experiences. As a result, people easily open up their minds to her until, as she mentions in the introduction of her new book, her head became on the verge of exploding with the amount of stories inside it. Which is where came the urge of writing her new book – Wesh Kosoof. From the very first pages of the book, the reader will discover that the title, which could roughly be translated as ‘Really Coy Girls’, is highly ironic. It is not Doaa the Egyptian woman and housewife who speaks this time, but Doaa whose job, as a TV presenter, is to listen to real-life problems in the Egyptian society on a daily basis.

Wesh Kosoof is a collection of Egyptian short stories which probe into the relationship between boys and girls, and men and women, and which happens to be a bit of a sensitive subject in the Egyptian society. The subject derives its sensitivity from the way it is dealt with in our conservative society. The problem with the Egyptian society is that it turned this subject from being sensitive to being a taboo. The purpose of religion is to discipline the desires of people only. The problem occurs when such desires are viewed as a shameful thing which, of course, is against human nature.

The author, on her turn, feels a duty towards the girls and the women of her society. They have every right to know about what is going on around them, though not in the blunt way which most writers and artists resort to now under the cover of realism. Though the book does have some strong words which the author uses to intensify the influence of the stories on the reader, the book still manages to, let us say, warn its readers of the dangers found in their society without contradicting itself by using explicit language. The book concludes with a story which answers some of the questions which may have occurred to the reader, especially regarding the fact that the book does not polish the stories before presenting them to the reader.

Hopefully, Wesh Kosoof would encourage other writers to transfer their experiences to others through a moral frame, regardless of the subject matter. This should not be restricted to books but to arts, as well. In the end, the main purpose of the written word or the picture is to mimic reality with a particular message for the sake of elevating the human soul. Isn’t it?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Interview with Marissa Meyer

It’s a fact that the Young Adult genre has reached a point where it can’t get any more popular. Keeping up with the new releases in the genre has become more like a marathon, as a result. However, only a number of writers manage to stand out, one of who happens to be the New York Times best-selling author, Marissa Meyer.
Through the innovative ideas that form the bricks of her fairytale worlds, the author of Cinder, Scarlet and the upcoming Cress succeeds in satisfying the needs of many readers to set off for a one-of-a-kind adventure. Marissa has been very kind as to answer the questions of Eventgate’s critic (and fan!), Sarah Dorra, about her books, influences, her life as an author and her view of literature as well as the YA genre.

One of the best things about Cinder and Scarlet is the multiplicity of different genres which you, successfully, manage to combine seamlessly. Is this intended or is it only a natural product of a mind which loves to read books in many genres?
Thank you! Mostly, the idea just popped into my head that way – to write a series of novels that combined science fiction with fairy tales. But it’s hard not to wear my inspirations on my sleeve – from space operas, like Star Wars, and space westerns, like Firefly, to Disney movies and a longstanding love of classic Grimm tales, to animes like Sailor Moon and Cowboy Bebop, to a strong appreciation for high fantasy… it all had some impact on my writing and the types of stories I’m interested in telling.

Your characters, though in a fairytale, are round and enjoy a great deal of credibility. Do you draw your characters based on people you’ve met in real life?
There are certainly aspects of my characters that were drawn from people I know in real life, and there’s probably a lot of influence that I’m not even aware of, but I never intentionally base a character off anyone else. They tend to pop into my head as their own, unique people.  Although sometimes it can take multiple drafts of a book before I feel like I have the characters really figured out.

Your books have their share of politics. Can a mind which loves, and even create, fairytales be, at the same time, interested in the dry subject of politics? Or is it because politics has become a part of our lives that we cannot ignore (which is something I very much understand as an Egyptian)?
Oh gosh, I actually can’t stand politics! But my husband listens to a lot of news shows on the radio, so I’m frequently forced to endure being made knowledgeable about such things, and I can recognize that I’m a better writer because of it. With this series in particular, I wanted readers to grasp that the issues my characters are facing – particularly the war between Earth and Luna – is something that can impact everyone on Earth. And of course, with Kai being a world leader, there had to be some politics, diplomacy, and media involved with all that. I hope I’ve done a decent job of making it realistic, and not too dry. ^_^

Did your life change after you became a published author?
My life is completely different now – which can’t be said about every published author, but I’m lucky that I was able to quit my day job and become a full-time writer. I do a lot more traveling than I ever did before, going to book signings, conferences, book festivals, etc. And the sheer amount of enthusiasm this series has seen from fans is astounding! I’m blown away by how well it’s been received, and feel incredibly lucky. Being a writer has been my dream since I was a kid. Somedays I still find myself looking around at my life and wondering if this can possibly be real.

Are there particular books which you grew up reading and which helped you become the successful writer you are today?
Lots! The Lord of the Rings were the first high fantasy books I read, and they really changed my perception on how much power a writer could have – the ability to create an entire universe! That was a really big realization for me. I also loved The Giver, which made me realize that a good story could actually change the way a reader looks at the world around them. And I would have to say Anne of Green Gables too, because I identified so much with Anne and her overactive imagination.

Some writers admit that, though they love to tell the world their ideas, they still don’t like the tough process of writing. How far do you agree?
There are definitely parts of the writing process that can get tiresome – like when you’re reading your book for the 8-millionth time and still feel like you haven’t gotten that one scene just right, or when you’ve discovered an enormous plothole and you’re beating your head on the wall trying to figure out how to fill it and no ideas are coming to you.
But for the most part, I really love writing. I adore my characters and want to just hang out with them all the time, and I even enjoy the challenge of taking a very messy concept, with lots of characters and subplots and uncertainties, and trying to turn it into a strong, suspenseful story that readers will enjoy. I think it’s fun.

Do you believe literature, or arts in general, should have a message? 
I think every good story will have a message, by default of being a good story. I’m not sure it can be avoided. But I rarely think about the messages in my own work until it’s finished, and then I might recognize some of the themes that have cropped up in the writing of it, that I wasn’t even aware of, and maybe I’ll go back and work on making those themes more prominent. But my goal as a writer is always to entertain before anything else.

How do you feel about Young Adult literature today? Do you believe that it guides coming-of-age teenagers as it should?
YA is such a rich genre right now, filled with talented writers and exciting stories, and its popularity continues to grow and grow – which to me says that more and more teens are reading it. I think that’s the important part, more than whether or not the books themselves are filled with empowering morals or whatever. Reading makes people smarter, more empathetic, and more curious about the world around them. So anything we can do to encourage teens to read is a good thing, and that starts with telling good stories that engage and excite them.

Any plans of visiting Egypt soon?
I would love to come to Egypt!!! But unfortunately, there aren’t any trips scheduled as of right now. Hopefully someday!

Thank you very much, Marissa, for your time!
No, thank YOU! ^_^

Reach: The Aspirations of a Robot

One interesting thing that has showed lately in the field of film is the standout of the young minds. It’s no longer restricted to the aged and the experienced. Many young minds have recently been able to prove that, regardless of the age and the educational background, it’s about talent in the end. One good example is Luke Randall whose Reach has received more than 20 awards including the 2nd place in the Cannes Short Film Corner Competition. In his 3-minute silent short, Randall sheds light on one side of a robot’s character which proves he’s more than just a piece of moving metal.

Reach lives up to its name. Content wise, the film tells the story of a newborn robot. He opens his eyes, blinks and, finding he has limbs, starts dancing around with love for life. Then he sees the open window and the bird outside. He doesn’t hesitate and runs towards it, forgetting that, in the end, he’s only a robot. On the other hand, the style equally ‘reaches’. Although the film is no more than 3 minutes long, it captures, without dialogue or words, the spirit of what might be mistaken as a mere machine. This is further assisted by the expressive score, especially Phillip Glass’s Floe.

The film, in other words, is a masterpiece in its simplicity and spontaneity. Its genius does not merely stem from the above-mentioned reasons but in the small details which build up, making this fine final product.

You can watch Reach here.

The Price: Short Film Review

So, it seems today is World Goth Day. I can’t pretend I’ve heard about it before, though I’m celebrating anyway since I’m a big, let’s say huge, fan of gothic art. I can’t seem to have enough of the dark worlds and the mysterious tales and stories carved in their memories.

A gothic tale may be told through literature, film, music or any other form of art, each through its own unique techniques. However, richness is achieved when more than a medium combines in telling a gothic tale. Christopher Salmon’s animation of Neil Gaiman’s The Price is a vivid representation of a world originally told in words by one of the best contemporary Gothic writers of our time.

 The 15-minute short is pure gothic in content and style alike. On the level of the content, the story has the elements of macabre, superstitions, sadness and misery. The elements appear through the unexplainable incidents which start with the appearance of the Black Cat at the isolated house of Gaiman.

In terms of style, Salmon’s CG-drawings bring the author’s words to life (assisted, of course, by Gaiman’s voice). He almost depends on no other colours except black and blue, yet he manages to create the perfect atmosphere for the story whose incidents take place under the light of the moon. The blend of Gaiman’s literary skills and Salmon’s cinematic talent results in this wonder of a short.

You can watch The Price here.

Hanaa Rafie on Love and Prosperity

Under the title of ‘Love and Prosperity with the Silent Witness,’ Hanaa Rafie Al-Tahtawy’s literary salon was held yesterday at Alef Maadi. An atmosphere of spirituality dominated the event as Al-Tahtawy related some events from the lives of Meister Eckhart and Rafie Mohammed Rafie. Though coming from completely backgrounds, both men discovered the path of the one and only God. An only through this path does one ‘win the meaning (understanding) of life by awakening the heart,’ which Al-Tahtawy said was the most important thing about yesterday’s topic. Wrapping up, she explained that that was her interpretation and that everyone has their own, opening up the door for discussion, the friendly nature of which reflected the event’s defining air of spontaneity.

For updates, visit the Salon’s Facebook page.