Wednesday 23 September 2020

Short Story Review: Anabasis by Amal El-Mohtar


Anabasis by Amal El-Mohtar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this as part of the collection Nevertheless, She Persisted: Flash Fiction Project .
This story can be found online

First, I thought I had better check what "anabasis" meant - "Anabasis (from Greek ana = "upward", bainein = "to step or march") is an expedition from a coastline up into the interior of a country" according to Wikipedia.

Upon starting to read this I was completely entranced by an early section which I found rivetingly poetic -

"My real mouth is full of sharp teeth and a sharper tongue, three languages coiled like snakes in my throat, scaly and silent. My real mouth is an armoury of words forged in the furnace of my chest, hot as a spitted sun. My real mouth is a storm, and my voice is thunder.
To pass among you I wear a different mouth: full lips unparted, always smiling. I paint it pretty colours. It speaks only when spoken to, softly. To pass among you, it tells you stories: I am sweetness. I am sunshine. I am here to hold your hand through the horror of my name. My mouth is a coin, and I spend it. "

According to the publishers , the story was inspired by a 2017 news story about the trecherous border crossing in the snow into Manitoba for refugees seeking Canada which reports that "A two-year-old member of a large group of refugees who walked into Manitoba from Minnesota ..told his mom he wanted to die instead of finish the walk". Heartbreaking.

El-Moktar's writing is stunning, she uses the Sumarian poem, Inanna's Descent into the Underworld to contrast with the mother's walk across the snow "Borders are shape-shifters,too: they change what goes through them. Time was, the only border worth crossing was into the underworld, to fetch back a lover's life" That writer is Canadian is extremely relevant to this piece - her passport, her struggle to remain Canadian in light of the border guard eyeing her as Arab, as Muslim. Her empathy with the predicament of those crossing
"If I could take each of my words and lay them in the snow at her feet. If I could.. eat this distance between us. If I could devour this border, if I could tell it to smile while I broke its teeth, if I could unsheathe the sword of my mouth and strike it down, if I could thread the needle of my mouth and stitch good shoes for her baby, if I could cut a path into this country with the sharpness of my tongue..." 
Unbelievably poignant.

I am very impressed by this piece, my mouth, my words fails to convey how much. 5 stars are not enough.

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