Basma Bouabidi Reveals the Secret Geography of the Tunisian Woman.
It is a real pleasure that one spends some of his time with a writer who masters the craft of writing, and who comes up with manifold beauty in her creative texts. Beautiful moments connected me with the Tunisian writer in the short story workshop within the framework of The National Festival of Literature and Arts in El Jerid. Then we met again through creation. I mean the creation of writer Basma Bouabidi when she began reading her novel Feminisation Season. I was overwhelmed with the atmospheres of the novel through which the writer deeply reveals the secrets of the Tunisian woman, and her hidden life in the south, shedding lights on intimate moments that she transmits them through the narrator’s voice once and through the eyes of the male and female characters other times. For instance, in the novel we see through the eye of a boy who is spying on a bride that his grandmother is preparing her for marriage his identification with the event. Through daydreaming he sees himself a bridegroom for delicious Mariam after the experienced grandmother prepared her for him. The female narrator says:
“And he sees her lying down, while she is hiding her face
with both her hands. His grandmother is putting a piece of
her mysterious dough between her thighs. Then she is spreading
out it and pulling it. So the girl shudders between the hands
that diminished in the water of youthfulness, and the softness of
femininity ages ago, dried up, and their skin wrinkled. The
poor girl moans between them once, and from time to time
a reticent cry emanates from her. When he hears it, he wishes
he could save her from the dry wrinkled hands.
But at night, when he lays his head on his pillow he sees
Mariam a bride between the hands of his grandmother
who is preparing her for him.”
The writer carries on the game of revelation, attempting to show this through a transparent language that suits to a great extent the atmospheres of the novel that is redolent of her feminine breaths. She says:
“One of her mates said to her one day, while they were bathing
in the well-spring, and rejoicing in its shadowy water, when she
showed her discontent with the nearness of autumn;
the season of dates and the disgust of the season of dates, to
her… She said to her, while she was pinching her buttocks
to which the dress clung, divulging her nipples, the
rounded buttocks, and the bulgy breasts:
-It is thanks to the curved date dough that I see all this. Isn’t
it? Or do you eat then you deny?
She added laughing:
-I imagine that the would-be husband will be lucky when he
squeezes these two breasts. Pure honey of dates will drip
from them, and he will drink till he gets drunk.” P.69
When the girl overcomes her shyness, and asks her aunt about the reason of avoiding marriage, the aunt replies:
“He used to come to me every night, flow in my
dreams, and cover my body with the light of stars. Then
he leaves me trembling, and goes away. She swallowed
her spit, and resumed saying:
-Then he returned to his remote country.
She reverted into humming:
-Showers of rain fell, and wetted my bakhnough
(traditional Tunisian woman’s shawl).
My chest felt tight because Hamma didn’t come.”
Basma Bouabidi excels in describing these ethereal feminine atmospheres with a lot of splendor. Women in this novel are various and diverse, but they share longing and all sorts of love. Besides, she, I mean the woman, moves in a time and a place that suit her nature as if they are a piece of her. Let us contemplate the female narrator, while she is talking about autumn. She says:
“Autumn has a different taste in the country of paradise, a
taste of life that resurrects the nothingness, so it exists…
Autumn has a different smell in the country of paradise, a
fleeting smell from heaven, a smell that colours things,
colours souls, and colours colours…”
This paradise is not but the oasis that is replete with its palm branches where the events of the novel take place, and from their sap the characters sip the legitimacy of their existence. That is to say, the place and time, for Bouabidi, are coloured with the colour of the self, I mean the selves of the characters.
This emotional celebration of time and place in the fictional text bestows on it an outstanding local touch, and makes it closer to the soul of the reader. So the latter feels that the stories of the characters are his/her own stories, and he/she can’t help but love and interact with them.
Basma Bouabidi’s Feminisation Season is a beautiful novel. It is extravagant as far as its atmospheres, characters, and interest in time and place are concerned. And more significantly, it uses an elevated narratorial language that takes a moderate way between its narratorial function that the writer excelled in it, and the soul of poetry that infiltrated it. Perhaps this is what enables the novel to give a successful model of a woman fictional sensibility that deserves more than one stop and meditation.
Originally appeared in ahewar.org N°3699, 15/04/2012 by Mustafa Laghtiri.
You can read the original text in Arabic here.
Translated from Arabic by Ali Znaidi.