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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Sahar Mandour

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To purchase 32

Title: 32
Author: Sahar Mandour
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 139 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: 32 - US
32 - UK
32 - Canada
  • Arabic title: 32
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Nicole Fares

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Our Assessment:

B : decent slice-of-contemporary-life in Beirut novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The National . 18/10/2016 Ben East

  From the Reviews:
  • "It is a refreshingly modern, fast-paced novella that is as comfortable talking about female independence as it is a barroom brawl. As such, it is a character study rather than a plot-heavy narrative, but the anonymous narrator and her friends are so thoughtful, and so much fun to be around" - Ben East, The National

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       32 is narrated by a young Lebanese woman living in Beirut. She is in her early thirties -- thirty-two, still, just, hence the title -- and has a group of very close female friends around the same age, of different backgrounds and in somewhat different circumstances (among them, for example, is Koko, from Sri Lanka, who sends home money but has some problems with her family back home).
       Their lifestyle in Beirut is presented as, on one level, fairly carefree -- lots of going out and getting together and drinking, and, for example, the narrator at one point decides on a more or less spontaneous get-away to Cairo (though a sandstorm blows in the way of that). This is Beirut, however, making for a more unusual mix of everyday concerns. The narrator complains about the unreliable supply of electricity in her building, and shares, at some length, her concerns about cockroaches -- but they can be downright blasé about some of the other problems that are too common to the city:

     I look around and see a few occupied tables, but the place is otherwise empty.
     Why ? Oh, right. A bomb went off this afternoon.
       They're certainly not indifferent or unaware of the dangers they face -- "Yeah. Any car around us could be a bomb" -- but they're able to compartmentalize their fear and don't let it overshadow day to day life. The possibility of violent death is ever-present, but they do their best not to let that get in the way of living their lives.
       The narrator, who works in the public library, has some literary ambitions; eventually 32 does become more of a novel-about-writing-a-novel but this aspect isn't at the fore at the beginning. But eventually the narrator reveals her ambition, to her friends and the reader:
So listen, I've been thinking of writing a novel for a while now. Not a novel, just a story, a regular story like one from everyday life. It's honestly the story of the ordinary days we live.
       She emphasizes that it's: "our story, the one we're living in Beirut today at the age of thirty". She is still trying to figure out exactly how she wants to do this -- figuring out what kind of book she wants to write, what kind of writer she wants to be -- while at the same time revealing herself as writer to her friends. She is in the process of shifting from the personal and entirely private, figuring it out for herself, to the public and shared -- amusingly presented in a scene where she continues to explain what she is doing:
     "I'm writing a story with a lot of events. Events that overlap and follow each other, without a chronological order, some that I remember from the past and others that go back and forth between imagination and reality. A lot of events that don't connect or lead anywhere, but do describe our reality. Our reality as it is. No, our reality as I see it."
     Georgios: "Good idea."
     "Did you hear me ? Was I speaking out loud ? Oh God, I lost my internal world !"
       The narrator is concerned about using her friends in her tale -- worried what they will think; indeed, she is already concerned that they are acting differently, knowing she is writing about them. She expands her fiction beyond that which is close to her, including a darker story-within-the-story or a surreal dream-like episode (which she gives one of her friends to read and comment on). However, it all comes down and back to her original plan and concept -- the everyday lives of her and these women.
       It makes for a decent, fast- and quite well-paced slice-of-lives novel, shifting between fast, chatty dialogue and more introspective reflection, and covering a good amount of ground. Yet even as it shows the characters up-close in everyday situations, it does lack a certain intimacy: for all her talk, the narrator isn't all that revealing beyond the here and now, and there's only a limited sense of who these individuals are. Mandour presents types -- women who are about thirty, living in Beirut -- more than full-fledged characters, with anecdote and quick exchanges limitedly revealing.
       32 does offer a welcome perspective on (near-)contemporary life in Beirut, even if it ultimately feels a bit thin.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 April 2016

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32: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Arabic literature

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About the Author:

       Lebanese author Sahar Mandour (سحر مندور) was born in 1977.

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© 2016-2021 the complete review

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