By Sandhya Christine Theodore and Gurnish Birdi
Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers a review of The women who forgot to invent Facebook and other stories by Nisha Susan and Minutes from the Miracle City by Omar Sabbagh.
The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories by Nisha Susan
Each story in Nisha Susan’s brilliant collection features a vibrant portrait of an unusual character. A woman unabashedly discusses her social circle’s “sexcapades.” An aging woman reminisces about her days of popularity and promiscuity. A newly married woman is obsessed with her husband’s late wife’s secret blog. An author struggles through literary festivals and Twitter warfare. A classical singer meets a prince online. A widower obsesses over his lover’s Instagram. A journalist goes on self-righteous rants about rape but tails a female character’s car, enjoying her panic.
These are stories of friendship, love, lust, violence and coming-of-age in spaces both on and offline. They are set in cities and small towns, featuring people both glamorous and mundane. The book is filled with characters you will love to hate and some you might see yourself in. Nisha Susan writes unapologetically, touching on themes of infidelity and erotic fantasies. The stories read like gossipy conversations overheard or someone’s notes app ranting. Susan is not afraid to tell her characters’ secrets.
Most of the central characters are women, but none are subject to the well-told tropes of victim, saint or hero. Even the most sympathy-arousing character is not spared a flaw or two. Female friendships are important to many of these stories but even they are not the pure, life-long perfection that is often featured in media.
Susan’s distinctly colloquial language turns the reader into a close friend, snickering about events usually left unrecounted. Even the most mundane event is given mocking significance, but the humour is not entirely situational. Susan presents bizarre situations with an air of sincerity and picks at the unnoticed intricacies of the human experience.
With its wry humour, this collection is perfect for anyone looking for a bunch of quick laughs. Be prepared to roll your eyes in judgment but also cringe in uncomfortable recognition.
Minutes from the Miracle City by Omar Sabbagh
Published by Fairlight Books in 2019, Minutes from the Miracle City is a short read that captures the story of a diverse cast of characters living in Dubai. Minutes from the Miracle City is a refreshing little read and is perfect to slip into your bag to read on the go.
“A delightful kaleidoscopic tale of contemporary Dubai.” Middle Eastern Studies Expert Dr Pamela Chrabieh encapsulates Minutes from the Miracle City in an essence with her quote, and I agree. In the 144 pages, Sabbagh does not fall short of bringing the vibrance of Dubai to life. Minutes from the Miracle City is fabricated with so much diversity and culture. The tale is set in the heart of Dubai during the last few days of Ramadan. Sabbagh packs in the themes of family, career, identity, religion and much more through each of his characters.
We first meet Hakim, a Pakistani Taxi driver, and Patrick, a security guard who hopes to become a writer. Hakim spends his days driving around businessmen. After moving to Dubai in the hopes of a better life for his family, he has learned every street in Dubai and knows them like the back of his hand. He hears snippets of the Englishmen’s conversation every day while they are passengers in his car. Patrick is a Ugandan security guard. Tall and muscular, he spends his days standing at the door of a supermarket. In reality, he aspires to be a writer. A journalist. Like Hakim, Patrick is reminded by his brother Edouard that he needs to think of his financial stability first. Patrick’s desire to become a writer does not die, but is his fate aligned to meet the right person at the right time? Farida, a feisty, independent Moroccan salon owner who has settled in Dubai for a fresh start, empowers the women around her and is one of many great female characters cultivated by Omar Sabbagh.
Hala is the youngest in her family, but much like her older brother Saeed, she wants to travel the world and study in London. Her fight for permission from her mother is an obstacle that Hala has to tackle. Hala’s voice is a familiar one. Her voice speaks for many young girls who have been sheltered from the world. But Hala is a force and, with her brother on her side, she is going to put up a fight.
This tale is driven by the range of its characters and their interlocking fates. In 144 pages Sabbagh creates such vivid characters, personalities and relationships that you will finish reading this tale in one sitting. Each character is living their own life, unaware of how they may fit into someone else’s narrative.