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Banipal Magazine. Issue 26


Images that speak a 1000 words

Hussein Al-Mozany

Saudi Author Mohammed Hasan Alwan’s second novel Sofia is a love story involving a young Saudi, Mouataz, who is bored with everything and seeks amusement in anything new, and a Lebanese Christian woman, Sofia, who lives alone in Beirut and who is dying from cancer. The two befriend each other through emails. When they meet, 29 year old Sofia offers her body to Mouataz. He ravages her with lust and passion, wondering how she could have spent all her life without a man. He is surprised when she asks him how he felt about the experience, as if it was he who lost his virginity.

Mouataz stays at her bedside for 42 days, watching her die. This young Saudi man finds himself observing the stages of death that are so conspicuous on her face. Listening to her simple, but highly philosophical words, he tries to delve into her innermost thoughts and feelings. The severance of the spiritual and physical link with the outside world is always there, Mouataz realizes. Sofia’s departure from this world cuts a deep wound in his heart; he walks the streets of Beirut, beseeching her not to leave him. He implores her: “Draw the pathway on my forehead, with your frail finger, and I will certainly remember it. Give me one thing from you that will one day light my path to you-a nail clipper, a wisp of hair; give me olives from your eyes and bread from your back.”

But a small silver cross is all that Sofia left him, her Muslim lover. It is wrapped in smooth silk cloth and laid in a box of “soothing velvet”. But he cannot find a suitable place for it in Riyadh, which is not particularly fond of crosses, so he hides it with something that belonged to his ex-wife.

Sofia is a mature work by a young writer, born in Riyadh in 1979, who carries within him features of the expressionist school; that is, writing from the inside, and giving inanimate objects the power of speech. Mohammed Hasan Alwan’s images speak a thousand words and are full of life. His metaphors, though far fetched at times, light up the original, and linguistically recast it in a somewhat unfamiliar manner for modern Arabic writing.