Houyem Ferchichi’s short story collection The Scene and the Shadow: A masterful use of places and a rich diversity of narrators.
Houyem Ferchichi’s short story collection al machhad wa dhil (The Scene and the Shadow) was published by Dar El Bourak Printing Publications and Distributions (Tunisia). It won 2011 CREDIF (Centre de recherché, d’études, de documentation et d’information sur la femme/ Center for research, studies, documentation, and information about women) Prize. Starting with the title “The Scene and the Shadow” we notice this close connection between the shading technique in drawing and fine art.
This connection highlighted a central dichotomy of reality and dream on which Houyem Ferchichi worked: She depicted reality in its details and plights, and its characters who suffer from siege and anxiety in the Tunisian society. She called forth the dream or the technique of artistic imaginativeness through myth and poetic language searching for an outlet and a salvation for most of the characters that are present basically as cultural characters, such as the artist, the thinker, the writer, the journalist, and the student…
Places in all stories are present in two forms, the symbolic place and the real place… The place is teeming with the characters’ anxiety and bewilderment in a way similar to fantasy. It is a container of the idea or the strange and mysterious events. This is especially exemplified in the story “The Black Cat’s Steps.” It also documents history and architectural features through using the Medina in the capital (the old town of Tunis) as a space for two stories in which the writer depicted the designs of buildings, alleys, butchers’ souk (market), and Bab Souika Square in the past, and the transformations that happened to them over the eras:
Arbia entered the alleys. She was surprised by the view of the walls
that are about to fall apart. She was disgusted of the stinky smells
emitted from the houses… She examined the tall buildings, the dirty
walls of the old houses, the newly born cats which were thrown near
piles of dust and which were ceaselessly meowing. She also felt dust
hurting her eyes.
The place has also a critical dimension that divulges the status quo of journalism. For instance, in the story “The Scene and the Shadow” the female writer or journalist moves to a mountainous village on a rainy day through a slippery road. Fire is the event that is used to divulge the practices of the editor and the businessman. Media contributes to hide or fake the realities, and exploit the weak in a forgotten village:
She was enjoying a short holiday when the editor called her
to do an investigative report in one of the mountainous villages
that was affected by fire that was about to devastate it.
She asked: “Would I contact the affected farmers?”
“No, but contact Mr. Sami Arrachid. He will donate a large amount
of money as a compensation for farmers’ losses!”
His peremptory voice reached her.
The short story collection The Scene and the Shadow is open to several arts, such as poetry, and fine art. Besides, intellectual presentation, psychoanalysis of characters, and explanation of the features of their tension and their internal and external conflict are prevalent.
Among the most artistic features, to this short story collection’s credit, we can cite: Diversity of narrators, their participation in the events, and their comments on them/ The focus in each story on a central character that the narration is responsible for revealing his/her features and attitudes/ A gradual depiction of the features of the characters’ internal tension, and the focus on the psychological dimensions. The Egyptian writer Ibrahim Jadallah confirmed that saying,
Houyem Ferchichi’s linguistic and technical game is dialectical in a
smooth and effective way, to the extent it reaches an intended
spontaneity with a social attitude, and a special vision of clothes, things,
and the world in a context of aesthetic relationships that are
transgressive and dialectical at the same time with this social attitude.
This spectacularity yielded by her texts is sufficient to mention an
Arab female short story writer with attributes who is dissimilar to
others, and no one is similar to her only a female writer who
altogether seeks new horizons through a new rhetoric of language
and event, and unique ways of storytelling.
In The Scene and the Shadow Houyem Ferchichi deviated from the so-called Arabic and Tunisian feminist writing. She worked on breaking the subjective barrier or the classical issues of women, such as isolation, and fear of male-dominated society. The writer reincarnated new characters who express social, civilisational, and political concerns in a unique style that first begins with the study of characters and living intimately with the space in the countryside and the city.
By Mohamed Issa El Mouadeb (Writer)
This review appeared in the Tunisian daily Alchourouk 18/05/2012 by Mohamed Issa El Mouadeb
You can read the original text in Arabic here.
Translated from Arabic by Ali Znaidi.