fun with footnotes: Kenize Mourad’s “Regards from the Dead Princess”
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 23, 2009
I spent a good amount of time this past weekend on a series of airplanes, which for me translated into “a good amount of time for reading”. As the unhappy woman next to me on the way home yesterday cursed the airline, the flight attendants, her fellow passengers, and God for collectively conspiring against her and slow arrivals to LaGuardia (could this SERIOUSLY come as a surprise to any regular traveler?), I was happily ensconced in a novel: Kenize Mourad’s “Regards from the Dead Princess”.
Its not the best book – the writing is a bit over-wrought, and riddled with cliches. And I bet you can tell from the cover design just who its target audience might be.
But I’m hooked, just like the 20-million-plus readers who preceded me. Why? Because the story that Mourad tells is that of her mother, Selma, the great-grandaughter of the briefly-reigning Ottoman sultan Murad V. Selma was a young teenager when the sultanate and then the caliphate were abolished, and in the mid-1920s she, her older brother, and her mother were among the many members of the House of Osman forced into exile.
Selma’s mother chose Beirut, since it was close enough to allow the family to return to Istanbul when ‘the people’ asked for their return, as she was sure they would.
I’m about a quarter of my way through the book (its a big one!), and Selma is currently a student at Besancon, where the French girls and the Maronites spurn her, and her only friend is an Atrash. The narrative is definitely worth the pained prose – and made better by some of the textual errors.
One is an oldie but goodie: Hussein, the grandfather of Jordan’s King Abdullah I, is described as the “Sheriff” of Mecca. This is one of the rare English-Arabic faux amis: Hussein was the “Sharif” of Mecca (pronounced “sha-reef”), a title that conveyed the sense of a personal honorific as well as of a governing position. He was NOT the “sheriff”: he did not wear a badge, or spurs, or engage in shoot-outs – well, at least, not of the Wild Western kind, although Mecca does seem to have had its lawless side.
(The English word “sheriff” derives from the same root as “shire”. Think “Hobbit”, not “Hajj”.)
What really made me laugh, though, was the book’s description of the start of the 1925 Druze rebellion against the occupying French. The book describes the Druze leadership as “hurl[ing] their keffiyehs to the ground: from now on they were at war with the French.” (161)
There’s a footnote next to “keffiyehs”, which helpfully explains that “keffiyeh” is “the Lebanese name for a fez”.
My snort of laughter did nothing to improve the mood of my unhappy seatmate, but it sure gave me a lift.