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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

As Doha Said

Bahaa Taher

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To purchase As Doha Said

Title: As Doha Said
Author: Bahaa Taher
Genre: Novel
Written: 1985 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 145 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: As Doha Said - US
As Doha Said - UK
As Doha Said - Canada
  • Arabic title: قالت ضحى
  • Translated by Peter Daniel

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Our Assessment:

B : odd narrative flow, but effective in its episodes and characters

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The narrator of As Doha Said is a government employee in his late thirties. Once filled with zeal he has now long given up on "politics -- and everything else for that matter". He shows little ambition -- the only reason he wants to get a study grant to go abroad is so he can set aside some of the money to marry off his sisters -- and rather than trying to improve his lot is willing to putter along in his job as always.
       The time is the early 1960s, the age of Nasserite nationalizations. This has led to the closing of the nearby stock exchange. It is a time of consolidation of power in the hands of the state. It should be an opportunity for empowerment and new freedoms, but proves to just make for a new entrenchment of corruption. Among the significant characters in the book is a parking attendant from the stock exchange, Sayyid, whom the narrator helps find new employment and who becomes increasingly politically active. The idealistic and optimistic Sayyid makes great sacrifices for the motherland, but finds the endemic corruption of the system much harder to fight against.
       The narrator tries to stay out of the fray, but he is also drawn into it by his attraction to a colleague, the lovely -- and married -- Doha. When he gets approval for his study grant, she also travels with him to Italy. Mysteriously well-connected, she also navigates the bureaucracy much more easily than he can -- but eventually there is a price for her to pay for the part she plays in the corruption.
       The narrator and Doha don't have much of an affair in Italy, but it does briefly flare very brightly. Doha -- who does like to drink -- also briefly opens up to him, and reveals her affinity with Aset -- the Isis to Osiris: it is as Aset that she sees herself, a goddess about whom she was taught nothing at school (where she learned about Jupiter and Aphrodite instead). Even once at Luxor she complained about a statue of Isis, an appropriated, watered-down version of the original:

This isn't Aset; it's Isis. This is a Roman woman in Roman dress. This Isis is a foreign invention.
       But her openness only lasts so long, and she soon shuts the narrator out again -- and he can't handle it very well.
       Tormented by his own acts of weakness and betrayal earlier in life, the narrator is almost unable to act, but he keenly follows the twisting fates of Doha, Sayyid, and others. The powers-that-be are too divided to be all-powerful here, but their reach extends far. Factions fight it out, and betrayal and corruption run deep.
       As Doha Said moves forward in somewhat awkward steps. Taher doesn't seem quite certain of what he wants the novel to be: the frustrated passion the narrator has for Doha makes for a love-story, yet her identification with Aset remains a crude fit for either that part of the tale, or the rest. The themes of corruption and betrayal are well-handled, recurring in many variations and creeping up and in at unexpected times (nicely suggesting the destructive pervasiveness of both), but a tighter focus on one or another of the main storylines might have proved more effective.
       As Doha Said could be structured better, but it remains an interesting small novel of government service during the Nasser years, complete with hope and disillusionment, and several of the characters are particularly well-drawn.

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As Doha Said: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Egyptian author Bahaa Taher (بهاء طاهر) was born in 1935.

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© 2009 the complete review

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