The Art of Forgetting
by Ahlem Mosteghanemi
translated by Raphael Cohen
Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, Qatar, 2011. Pbk, 241pp.
“Chocolate is your weapon”
The Algerian writer Ahlem Mosteghanemi made her name with a trilogy of novels: Dhakirat al-Jasad (1993), Fawda al Hawass (1997) and Abir Sarir (2003), all published by Dar al-Adab of Beirut. The novels were bestsellers, with claimed sales of more than 2 million copies and the author having the status of a glamorous celebrity. Now Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP) has published an English version of Nessyane.com, under the title The Art of Forgetting, translated by Raphael Cohen. The Nessyane.com project is complemented by an Arabic website (at www.nessyane.com) and an Art of Forgetting/Nessyane.com Facebook page.
The cover of The Art of Forgetting makes it look like a self-help book of the type that has proliferated in the US and UK in recent decades. The covers of such books typically have no picture, but boldly carry their aims and message in the emblazoned title and subtitle. The subtitle of Mosteghanemi’s book is: “Love him as no woman has ever loved and forget him like a man forgets.” This would appear to put her in similar territory to that of American author John Gray’s hugely successful self-help book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus which stresses the differences between men and women in love relationships.
But The Art of Forgetting is different from a conventional self-help book. It draws much of its inspiration from literature, and is refreshingly free of psychobabble or 12-point plans. And rather than being over-earnest in tone Mosteghanemi’s approach is one of humour and playfulness. She says she wrote the book with “a great deal of sarcasm. I want you to laugh; nothing deserves sadness.”
The Art of Forgetting is intended as the first of four books on “the four seasons of love”, which Mosteghanemi identifies as “the wondrous season of encounter, the jealous season of longing, the agonised season of separation and the splendid season of forgetting”.
On the cover of The Art of Forgetting is a red circle containing the words “Not for Sale to Men”. But Mosteghanemi denies that her book is “male-bashing” or a feminist manifesto. “It is a women’s inventory against masculinity and in defence of man, that captivator to whose charms we are proud to fall victim, because without him we would be neither feminine nor women”. She quotes approvingly in the book from many male Arab authors.
Mosteghanemi makes some sweeping assertions, in a semi-joking manner. For example she states that Arab women of all ages, who have grown up with the idea of the father-leader, “reject younger men and go for others whose grey hairs hold out no hope”. And “what’s truly amazing is that men, on account of their suffering from the Arab rooster complex, have more faith in women who lie . . . the more games she plays, the greater his trust in her.”
The book is divided into a dozen sections, with titles such as “advice worth a herd of camels”, “telephone oblivion”, “the ambushes of memory and “the tango of forgetting”. Within the sections are short chapters of typically one to three pages. Readers are invited to sign “the charter of female honour” on page 233 of the book (and at www.nessyane.com).
Among the author’s many recommendations is “make your memories into tabbouleh”, drawing inspiration from the giant “memory shredder” set up in Time Square on New Year’s Eve. “In the absence of a shredder, enter the kitchen of love and shred everything that has become a source of irritation and pain in your life.”
Publication of The Art of Forgetting is the first fruit of BQFP’s extensive commitment to publishing Mosteghanemi’s work in English. Raphael Cohen is translating her trilogy: Memory in the Flesh is due to be published by BQFP this July, and Chaos of the Senses and Bed Hopper in 2013. The first two novels in the trilogy were earlier published by American University in Cairo Press (in English translation by Baria Ahmar Sreih); AUC Press subsequently republished Memory in the Flesh with revisions by Peter Clark.
The Art of Forgetting mingles the profound with the frivolous. There are chapters on spirituality and prayer: “don’t place your confidence in a man who has turned away from God after being seduced by worldly matters.” On a more indulgent level there is a chapter on “chocolate is your weapon”. The book is itself rather like a box of assorted chocolates to be dipped into; some of its chapters are soft and sweet, others are dark and mysterious, crunchy with a bite, or unexpected like a salted caramel.
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