The Documented Pandemic – Reviews – Books

The COVID pandemic has affected life as we know it. As they experienced home isolation and witnessed severe cases of the virus that survived or died, people around the world became hungry for any enlightening scientific information about the virus. Therefore, the layman has become acquainted with all the scientific facts such as those related to infection protection and healthy eating.

Such a state of turmoil was bound to affect literature. Therefore, many authors have written novels and stories about the pandemic.

In his latest novel Ghorbet El-Manazel, or Distant Houses, Ezzat El-Kamhawi probes the effect of the pandemic on a building in which people of all social classes live. El-Kamhawi shows great skill in diving deep into his characters to show how people behave when literally imprisoned in their own homes.

The characters dealing with the pandemic range from a high-ranking official to a doorman and his family, who live in the basement of the building. Suddenly, the doorman realizes he has so much free time and very little to do, as social distancing has made his duties much lighter. His wife, whom the residents of the building relied on to do their shopping and clean their homes, becomes a possible transmitter of the virus. Likewise, the doorman’s children, long cared for and fed by all residents, suddenly become a threat, as possible carriers of COVID and therefore of death.

The way the public official rose through the corporate ranks makes him an interesting character. We know that he rose through the ranks by accepting all kinds of humiliating tasks inside and outside the workplace. Eventually, he becomes the boss after learning the secrets of every influential person ranking above him. When it comes time for a promotion, he’s the obvious choice because he’s got dirt on everyone.

The author tells how the pandemic is affecting the lives of residents of Dust city – a clear symbol of Cairo – the most polluted city in Egypt. Each chapter begins with a date. Even if he does not recount the events chronologically, El-Kamhawi manages both to recount the events without confusing the reader and to maintain the reader’s curiosity to continue reading.

The novel has no hero; all the characters are heroes. El-Kamhawi managed to give each of his characters a story, a space to develop, and a story that keeps the reader curious about him. Finally, all show different ways of dealing with the pandemic.

Badie El-Attar, the historian, had isolated himself at home long before the pandemic. He is portrayed as someone who would rather be with books than people. Once the pandemic breaks out in Wuhan, China, he decides to focus entirely on that city.

Through Badie El-Attar, El-Kamhawi describes Wuhan and how Chinese authorities have handled the pandemic. It also depicts snap hospitals and isolation measures, and describes how the virus spread from there around the world. It also describes the race to find a cure. And yet, the author only documents the beginning of the pandemic, thus urging readers to do their own research based on their own experience of the pandemic.

Through the historian, the author also mentions and explains two historical pandemics, one in ancient Greece during the Peloponnesian War and the second in Spain before World War I. Both pandemics had come from Asia through ports. The second of them had the improper name of “the Spanish flu”. Speaking of these historic pandemics, El-Kamhawi is very erudite.

The author portrays another of his characters, a woman who lived nearly 50 years in New Orleans before returning home to Dust City. Her name is Safinaz el Waqad and she is of aristocratic origin. His father had been a friend of the last king of Egypt. Therefore, she had to leave Egypt following the July 1952 Revolution. Safinaz makes the decision to return to New Orleans once the plane becomes safe again.

The author demonstrates a great knowledge of New Orleans, which served as the setting for A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, and the lifestyle that reigns there. He even mentions Emeril’s, one of New Orleans’ famous restaurants, without mentioning his name. His portrayal of the town and the restaurant is so accurate that the reader is led to believe that the author actually lived in the town and ate at the restaurant. It also provides particularly interesting details on restaurant food prices and who is lining up to get a reservation.

One of the most interesting characters for readers tends to be the womanizer. Rami, a musician who has had his share of fame in the past and is also a resident of the building, is such a character. In order to trap his wives, Rami used to play a trick: he published an ad in the most popular newspaper asking for a secretary, and as soon as the girl called, he had the ability to determine whether the girl understood the ad. as a job offer or as a chance to have an affair. One day, a woman responds to his ad and ends up taking control of her life. She never had sex with him despite his continuous attempts.

Only once was he able to sleep with her after getting her drunk one night. She begins to schedule dates for him and even befriends the rest of her friends. Also, she ends up moving in with him as office manager and stays with him for years in that capacity. Although the author portrays Rami’s life as full of stories with interesting details, Rami’s character does not dominate the narrative. The reader can actually feel the author struggling to treat Rami like any other character in the story.

This novel chronicles the years of the pandemic and how Egyptians coped with it. Despite the official lockdown, the streets of Dust city are packed with pedestrians and cars, and much of the city’s population acts like COVID doesn’t concern them.

The author also shows how the pandemic has also created new types of crimes. Perhaps out of fear, greed or ignorance, some people have gone so far as to throw their sick relatives out of windows and balconies. They just didn’t know how to handle the problem and let their darker side prevail.

The author, however, ends on a note of hope by depicting a love story between two elderly people during the pandemic. This love story begins after the doorman’s wife begins to live in the apartment of a deceased resident. Getting familiar with a more comfortable life and the internet, the doorman’s wife falls in love with someone online

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