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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Magic of Turquoise

Mai Khaled

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Title: The Magic of Turquoise
Author: Mai Khaled
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 98 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: The Magic of Turquoise - US
The Magic of Turquoise - UK
The Magic of Turquoise - Canada
The Magic of Turquoise - India
Zauber des Türkis - Deutschland
  • Arabic title: سحر التركواز
  • Translated by Marwa Elnaggar

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Our Assessment:

B- : lyricism overwhelms the stories

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Magic of Turquoise is presented in alternating chapters, narrated by a young Egyptian woman, Leila, and her aunt, Nirvana. Nirvana is in hospital, in a coma -- and Leila wonders whether she attempted suicide, of was the victim of an unfortunate accident (someone on a jet ski came to help Nirvana as she seemed to be struggling in the water, but smashed into her head and fractured her skull in the process).
       Nirvana is actually okay with being comatose:

This deep coma feels delicious. It takes me far away, and then brings me back, as if I was riding a bus from the beginning of its route, enjoying it while not leaving it. And I stay like this, going and coming, going and coming.
       Her mind still drifts actively -- returning, in particular, to a trip she made to Germany as part of a cultural exchange program as a student in 1984. She focuses also on the men in her life: her cousin Tarek, whom she has been extremely close to since early childhood, as well as Muhannad, whom she meets on the trip to Germany. Both she and Leila are somewhat frustrated romantics: Nirvana told her mother when she was young: "I want to live a great love story", but both she and her niece find love a more complicated matter.
       Leila is still hesitant about what path to take in life; as she worries about her aunt she has just failed, yet again, to audition at the Center for Creativity in Cairo, running away from opportunity. Coming from a family that values the practical -- Nirvana studied medicine, too -- and where even: "the humanities are a disgrace", an artistic career is certainly not something to be taken very seriously. Leila's wayward interest and ambitions are also seen as a reminder that she is the: "girl who carries the strange woman's genes", since her own mother clearly did not fit in the family.
       Nirvana is a supportive maternal figure for Leila -- who isn't sure exactly what she considers her:
My aunt ? My father's sister ? My dream mother ?
       The presentation here, of these alternating narratives, is, in some ways, very effective: the two characters share their secrets, in a sense, yet are unable to truly communicate; ultimately, they have to work these things out themselves.
       Nirvana also admits:
     I know my sentences are unclear, for I am still under the influence of the coma, but when I find my way to the surface, I'll tell you the whole story
       But it's not just the coma that clouds the narratives: both are steeped in a lyricism that often gets in the way. In particular, the color-imagery (there's lots of turquoise, and variations thereon ...) -- while ultimately serving a purpose -- definitely gets to be a bit much.
       Typical is oratory such as Leila's:
     And indirectly, and through the transmigration of our souls and your easy entrance into my spiritual field, I also ended up imagining myself a bride carrying a bouquet of blue flowers in a church altar, and living in a house with walls of shades of blue, from sky blue to dark blue.
       While Leila and her aunt's transmigration of souls and co-joined spiritual fields may work for them, the reader is not as easily drawn in. No doubt, this sort of lyricism is difficult to translate, and it proves to be a significant hurdle here -- especially since it clearly is such an important aspect of the novel for Khaled.
       At less than a hundred pages, The Magic of Turquoise is also a very short work, and both in presentation and feel has something of the fragmentary to it; while thus accurately reflecting Nirvana's comatose near-delirium, as well as the slight shatterdness of both women's lives, the story may have worked better if it had been more fully fleshed out.
       The Magic of Turquoise is of some interest, but not -- in its English version -- entirely successful.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 June 2012

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The Magic of Turquoise: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mai Khaled (مي خالد) is an Egyptian author.

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© 2012 the complete review

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