Traces of Enayat

On Love and Silence

Nadia Haji Omar, Round Flowers. 2022, ink and graphite on paper. 8 x 6". Photo by Charles Benton. Courtesy of the artist and Kristen Lorello, New York. Collection of Whitney B. Armstrong, New York.

I came across Love and Silence in 1993, during a hunt for a cheap copy of Collected Miracles, al-Nabhani’s dictionary of holy men. “One pound,” said the bookseller by the Ezbekiya wall, and though I’d never heard of it before, I bought it on the spot.

From her name I instantly assumed that the author must be the younger sister of the activist and writer Latifa al-Zayyat.

The United Arab Republic — Ministry of Culture

Love and Silence — An Egyptian Novel

Enayat al-Zayyat Dar al-Katib al-Arabi (AH 1386/AD 1967)

Introduction by Mustafa Mahmoud

The novel opens in Cairo, as the narrator describes her state of mind following her brother’s death in November 1950:

And again I was overcome by the piercing realization that, with his death and departure, this incredibly precious thing had vanished from my life: that I had lost my brother.

Hisham has died in an accident on the parallel bars, a discipline of which he says, It gives me control over my body. Hisham’s absence is a fount, the spring from which the narrative flows, branching into a tangle of internal reflections, among them the narrator’s account of her depression and her meditations on the meaning of a life lived in the presence of death:

And I looked into his face, unable to believe that Hisham could be dead, that this face would forever be a sleeper’s. A sleeper without breath in his chest. Yet at the same time, the lack of breath seemed meaningless, like he could get to his feet, and run about, and laugh; that he was stronger than anyone, than everyone, and didn’t need something as insubstantial as breath to live. And I reached out my hands and ran them over his face, maybe so he might feel them and open his eyes to me — me, his sister, Najla. But the face stayed still and frozen. I thought I saw a blue steal into his lips, then seep slowly outward across his features, and for the first time I found myself afraid of him, and ashamed of myself for my fear; for fearing my brother now that his soul was gone. I felt as though I was spying on someone I didn’t know. Then I saw him, or imagined I saw him, turn his face from me, and the sight was insupportable, because for the first time I had accepted his death.

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