Rihana


Book Review
Title: Rihana
Author: Maisoon Saqr
Publisher: Dar Hilal 2003


The author Maisoon Saker has constructed her first novel as a kind of ‘social drama’ depicting the transitional phase from colonialism to independence and the building of nation-states in the Arabic world. The novel takes place in the Arabic Emirates and in Egypt in the 50ies and 70ies of the 20th century. It follows the true story of the former governor’s family of Sharja exiled in the 60ies after the governor had fallen into disgrace with the British colonial power and had been brought down because of actively supporting the national consciousness developing among the people.
Presenting two main stories running parallel to each other, the author offers an insight into the life of two people belonging to contrasting social classes, that is freemen and slaves, which are, however, at the same time connected.
On the one hand, there is Rihana, a slave in the service of the governor’s family forced to follow them into exile to Cairo and, thus, separated from her husband. In her deep sorrow she takes to alcohol and drugs. With her behaviour becoming unbearable for the governor’s family, she is sent back to the Arabic Emirates. There the situation turns into the opposite. Rihana gets back her freedom. Since her husband is in the armed forces recently set up in the new state, she also owns an estate and can afford to have servants herself. However, one day her husband and her daughter are killed in an accident and this marks the beginning of Rahia’s social decline and the breaking up of her family. One son, he has a homosexual tendency, increasingly drifts into the eccentric nightlife, and the other one is recruited by a religious group and goes to war and fights in Afghanistan. Disillusioned and addicted to drugs and alcohol Rihana ends up as a confused city tramp.
On the other hand, this novel also tells the story of Shamsa living in the world of the free people. She is the daughter of the former governor brought down by the British colonial power and grows up in Cairo. As a student she observes the current socio-political tendencies in society with great interest. Falling in love with an Egyptian fellow student and planing to marry him, she gets into conflict with her family, because she is already promised to her cousin.
The fates of these two women take place within certain bounds marked by contradictory poles, that is socio-political ideals and actual constraints, between freedom and oppression, success and failure. Moreover, they take place against the background of important political events and developments such as the fight against colonialism and the struggle for independence, Nasserism, the Six-Days War, the rise of political Islam and Sadat’s state visit in Israel.
In addition to providing the reader with information about the history of the Arabic Emirates, the author also offers detailed descriptions of everyday life and culture. Moreover, she takes a critical look at explosive issues like the power struggle within the ruler’s family, slavery, homosexuality and the addiction to alcohol and drugs. On a whole, in doing so Maisoon Saker gives a complex picture of her homeland, a country about which rather little is known in the West.
Maisoon Saker's autobiographic novel "Rihana” has met with a good response in the Arabic world, especially in regard to its artistic quality and its content.

Maisoon Saker is the daughter of the former governor of the Arabic Emirates, brought down later on, and lives in Cairo today. She has written several collections of poems. "Rihana” is her first novel and was published in Cairo in January 2003.