Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Silent Lips, Speaking Hearts by Tarek Hassan Refaat – English Book Review

Silent Lips, Speaking Hearts is a short story collection by Egyptian author Tarek Hassan Refaat. The 24-story collection, written in Arabic, is about women in general and Egyptian women in particular.

The stories are in the form of snippets of women's lives, which makes them easily relatable, while at the same time highlighting problems within the home and society.

At the end of Silent Lips, Speaking Hearts, Refaat asks the reader to look at women and the world with a view that is different and "free of judgement, free of condescension; to look without feeling better or more important than others; to look at a woman as she is: a person, with their own mind, who is capable of anything and everything." 

He further adds: "Women lack nothing except the need to have others deal with them as a person, an independent person, just like men. All that is stopping us from doing so are ideas and beliefs that are neither related to truth nor religion."

In each story, the main character or protagonist is a woman, although two stories have men as the main characters but they also revolve around women. Stories vary in length from one to three pages at most.

Silent Lips, Speaking Hearts opens with the shortest but most powerful story in the collection. Loosely translated to "A Woman and Her Suitcase," this first story paints vivid pictures in the reader's mind and leaves strong emotions in the reader's heart.

"Gamila and her Coffee" is a relatable story, and anyone who is a fan of romance will enjoy it, while "Sherine and [the] War" is a magnificent piece tackling women's struggles in Egyptian society. Five stars to this one. Here's a short excerpt from the story:

"Sherine stood before the large mirror on the inside of her wardrobe door. Silently, she stared at her face and ran her through her hair, breathing in the end of a day that felt more like a war than a day; a war like those told in stories about World War I, where soldiers run to take over some place, run with all their speed and might, ignoring a hail of bullets and shells fired by armored tanks, only to reach that point where they can stand tall then rest.

But Sherine felt like this war was her everyday struggle. Every day, she had to wage her own war against a hail of criticism, judgements, harassment and more; but worse, she was always blamed and told she was the party who wronged others not the one who was wronged."

Not all the stories in Silent Lips, Speaking Hearts, highlight women's heroics. Some offer criticism about the way some women live, especially in Egypt. "Salma and Other Women" is about that; it tackles how women often compare themselves to other women, try to compete with men, and how many women are often willing to hurt others to rise or to appear better.

Meanwhile, "Amal and the People in Her Building" sheds light on how people in Egypt often look at divorced women, like how men and other married women look at them.

I can't translate this title but the story, transliterated to "Talata Sokkar Nabata," is one of the funniest stories in Silent Lips, Speaking Hearts. Five stars to this one.

I also love "Nada and the Sea" not just because the main character shares my name but because I totally relate to this one. It's as if I'm in the story and it paints a beautiful picture in my mind. It's also how I view the sea; a place I can tell worries and stories. Another five stars are in order.

In "Mona and Beautifying [the] Pain," Refaat tackles the prevalent idea of the strong independent woman, which has forced women to create versions of themselves that appear strong and invincible on the outside. Five stars to this one.

Other recommended stories in Silent Lips, Speaking Hearts include "Emad's Dream," "Hazem and Marwa," "Feryal Wins," and "Farah Writes," among others.

I have a few other comments that pertain to the Arabic short story collection like repeated words and phrases. But should this collection be translated into English, I think this can be easily overcome. Many of the stories don't really involve dialogue, so it would be nice to have some dialogue here and there.

Overall rating for Silent Lips, Speaking Hearts by Tarek Hassan Refaat: 4 stars.

Note 1: This collection is currently available in Arabic, but if you like the review, leave me a comment below and we'll see if we can convince the author to get it translated.

Note 2: The translations provided in this review are my personal translation of the Arabic book.

Add Silent Lips, Speaking Hearts on Goodreads.

About the Author:

Tarek Hassan Refaat is an Egyptian author. Though he works in information technology, he likes to write short stories and novels in both English and Arabic.

His first book was Ruptured in 2011, followed by Ribbons and Heels in 2013 and then Broken Shadows.

Silent Lips, Speaking Hearts is first publication in Arabic, with publishing platform Kotobna. Tarek has also published another Arabic collection called Moments and is currently working on publishing two more short story collections in 2020.

Connect with Tarek Hassan Refaat via Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon.

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