Manal El Sherbini - Egypt Today Manal El Sherbini - Egypt Today

Sides of Humanity

Fri, Nov. 3, 2017
For her novel Thalath Waraqat (Three Cards), poet and literary critic Manal El Sherbini uses poetry and informal language to capture the reality of human struggles as she recounts a sequence of short events.

Set in Egypt, Palestine and Jordan, Three Cards probes into the way humanity has evolved in Arab nations, depicting psychological insights, struggles of nations with lands and religions, women’s rights, relationships, parenthood and Arab identities emerg- ing in a cosmopolitan society. El Sherbini speaks to us about her personal contact with cosmopolitan societ- ies which inspired her to produce the illustrated novel and her plans to trasnlate it into French and English and turn it into a film directed by acclaimed filmmaker Ali Badrakhan.

Tell us about your novel. The entire novel is inspired by real-life situations and experiences that I was close to in reality where I met with people from different walks of life. There is a scene that is very close to my heart where the lady is on a swing and her entire surroundings ro- tate around her. The scene depicts the actual inner struggles that humans experience. A person comes to a certain point of self-doubt and tends to look back at their lives, at their accomplishments and pains while questioning the truth and their realities. They then enter into a cycle of denial where they refuse to confront their realities, pains and fears; a state de- picted in the dizziness that happens after swinging. At this turning point, one doesn’t reach any conclusion except falling down into nothing. The swing is a sym- bol of desired freedom from inner human conflicts while the dizziness symbolizes the escape from the unpleasant reality.

The main goal of the novel is to highlight the cruel world we’re living in on all levels. This includes, among other behaviors, deception, which pushes you to ques- tion the moral conduct of the closest people and the strangers that cross your life. The immoral human be- haviors are strongly highlighted in the novel through several characters; for example, the grandmother that depicts the mostly fake world we live in.

What do the three cards of the novel symbolize?
The title Three Cards portrays several things, in- cluding women rights, land and ethical manners. The cards also have sub meanings in depicting how various generations deal with these aspects. The three cards also portray the three children in the novel.


You grew up with different women from different countries, tell us a bit about this experience.

When I first entered the cosmopolitan society where these women lived, it was an enclosed community, in- nocent, good-hearted and [punctuated] with tragedies mainly revolving around land and its great psychologi- cal struggles. For example, the Palestinian woman Om Gehad treated her children harshly by limiting their freedom and not allowing them to go out of the house. She grew up seeing family members and those around her getting arrested at a time when Israel occupied Palestine and was constantly launching random ar- rest campaigns. Women of this society I lived in have changed compared to back then. They were granted less freedom to education and travelling, however that changed as they grew up pursuing higher educational degrees. These women still have struggles from dif- ferent psychological conflicts resonating from vio- lence and pain due to the loss of land and family.

How do you think parental behavior needs to change to produce promising generations?
Parents of today should treat their children as adults regardless of their age. We should always introduce new ideas into our children’s minds and challenge them because their brains are only operating around the questions they ask based on their surroundings. We should seek to expand their horizons but also re- spect their choices.

You were very passionate in discussing the sta- tuses of Jordan, Egypt and Palestine through these women in the book, what did they all have in com- mon back then and now?

The common aspects are that the community in ev- ery nation changes their behavior toward their country as a result of, or in parallel to, the change in the coun- try’s policies. All three countries were underdeveloped in the past. For example I went to Jordan during the 1980s and I felt like it was the 1960s due to the closed societies, but this changed over time.

What common sentimental behaviors did you find among all three nationalities?
We are all struggling communities and divided into many factions; however human struggles are always the same in all nations of the world in my opinion.

If you could describe the three countries in one word each mentioned in your book, what would they be? Palestine is Ahlam, Egypt is Reem and Jordan is Gamila.

Ahlam is a Palestinian character you are clearly very passionate about and you mention her on several occasions in the novel. What does Ahlam resemble to you?
Ahlam resembles the lost nation and anyone we tend to lose due to being ignorant of their true worth, and anyone we reject because they’re different.

Tell us more about the drawings in the book.
My drawings are symbols of many things, such as authoritarian aspects that continue to haunt humans. The drawings also symbolize forgotten martyrs and graveyards. The Christian cross found in some of the drawings symbolizes injustice, discrimination and suf- fering. I drew these without a plan, it was as if my soul was drawing and impersonated my inner struggles that I couldn’t express through words.

Ali Badrakhan is planning to turn the novel into a film. Are there any updates on that?
Prominent filmmaker and director Ali Badrakhan and director Ahmed Deiaa El Din have shown great interest in turning the novel into a film [and we are planning to meet again to] discuss further plans of the film production, including logistics, potential scenarists and finances. Badrakhan has a vision of roducing a drama portraying the characteristics
f the novel and factions of cultural and societal tances as well as inner humanitarian conflicts. He elieves there is potential in the novel and has even ompared it to international cinematic artworks hen he first read it.

ell us about your future project
I am working on a novel, Maraya Younis (Younis’s truggles) which will be a very short story where ach page of the book will include one line. Another ovel I am working on is Titos, based on societal esearch investigating human behaviors of our ommunity.
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