Literary CornerThe dreams of Nabila: A Yemeni tale (1/2) [Archives:2005/858/Culture]

July 11 2005

By Abu Alkalmah Al-Tayyibah
Subject Book: The Dreams of Nabila, A Yemeni Tale1

Author: Aziza Abdullah (Abu Luhoum)

Language: Arabic

Publisher: Al-Khaniji Bookshop

Year published: (1st) 1998

The Yemeni literary world is as previously stated in this corner is most often consumed by poetic works or descriptive narrative of events, not to mention the theological and jurisdictional content that overpowers many of the works of many of the past Yemeni writers. Understandably, the latter acquired their learning through the traditional religious scholastic institutions that dominated the educational sector up to the coming of the September 26, 1962. With the Revolution came many changes and many developments that rushed on Yemen like a torrential flood that has managed to break open the relentless gates of obscurity, isolation and deprivation that the Yemenis endured for centuries. Needless to say, this onrush of so many new and untested ideas, patterns of living and a yearning for material affluence were bound to bring challenges on the people of the country, especially the common folks. The major challenge of any society as it tries to break away from the agonies and sufferings of the past are made the more harder by the difficult position of having to make a choice between many of the deeply engrained social and cultural traditions fostered by ignorance and accepting different norms and social frameworks restructured to keep pace with the requirements for modern living. In many ways this is the dilemma faced by many of the world's underdeveloped nations and in many ways it is a major factor in stalling the ability of these nations to progress and become the benefactors of the progress made by mankind in so many different fields. The Story of Nabila is a powerful expose of all these challenges hitting Yemeni society, since the Revolution, as it seeks to find its niche in the modern world. Undoubtedly the impact and suffering that women especially are averse to as are further multiplied as different paradoxes and conflicting social values add more stress and pressure on them to seek an exit from the bewilderment that has confined them to an almost helpless state for so many centuries.

In giving us this Yemeni Tale, as Aziza Abdullah calls it, one is compelled to admit that the author has a fairly strong understanding of the social pressures that have arisen and the incongruity of the way some of the elements in the society have managed to corrupt the aspirations and hopes that most of the common folk yearn for. Aziza Abdullah has a strong feel also about the inner feelings and cravings of the characters she portrays and their readiness to withstand all this pressure they are subjected to, not because they do not know any better, but because of the fears that come with the sudden break from the rigid complexity of stubborn social values and the moral inclinations of the subconscious that impels them to cherish their honor above their own well-being.

Before we get into the plot and the overlying themes in the “Dreams of Nabila” one must give some background information about the author, and a brief description of the setting. Aziza Abdullah is one of those Yemeni modern women, who were able to jump leaps and bounds from a past of deprivation, ignorance and socially ordained confinement to a present of literacy, culture and modern ideals. Thanks to favorable coincidences in her lifetime, she was able to have access to the channels that will nurture in her a fervent desire to go beyond the fortunes of fate that have accompanied her life. Yes, she was a modern Yemeni mother, but should this motherhood be confined to the modern nurturing of her offspring? No, for Aziza Abdullah her horizons were far more expansive, because all the learning and culture she has acquired from many years of her life overseas and from the equally expansive horizons of her husband, H. E. Muhsin Al-Aini, the former Prime Minister of Yemen on several occasions and Senior Diplomat, who insisted that his aspirations for a modern Yemeni society should start at his home. This produced not only a modern Yemeni mother, but also an energetic desire to share her intellect and cultural attainments with the world. After having pretty much completed her primary responsibility of rearing up her children, she began to experiment with her ability to jot down all the thoughts that were continuously dancing in her mind. She wrote poetry and began to experiment with short stories about Yemen that began to show that there is a lot that Aziza has been collecting as life took her from one world to another and from the role of mother to a role of social analyst of her people. Yes, Aziza Abdullah should be rightly proud of the great progress she has accomplished in her intellectual capacity to reveal to the world and for history's sake the prevailing character of Yemeni society, without being stingy on so many of the intricate details that truly give a vivid picture of the awesome complexity of social and cultural retardation. Moreover, her recollections of the severe hardships of the past, especially faced by women, will probably be credited with showing us intricate details of the way of life of the Yemeni people that has withstood the tests of time and geographical isolation, all of which allowed Yemen to remain steadfast in the maintenance of a compelling and sometimes merciless social regime, especially on women.

Next issue we will examine the Dreams of Nabila, in more detail and delve into the many issues which Aziza Abdullah has brought to the forefront and require the attention of all those who aspire for Yemen to truly achieve modernization and enhancement of Yemeni society, while maintain those traditions and values that truly will keep our moral fiber intact, without transgressing on the rights and freedom of any elements in the society.

1 The word “riwayah” in Arabic is sometimes used to mean novel, but the book under analysis here is more of a narrative of a tale revealed to the author by its leading player, who the author names as Halimah (Forbearing or enduring) and Ahlam (Dreams – along the lines of hopeful aspirations)