CHICAGO: From award-winning Kuwaiti author Bothayna Al-Essa comes “All That I Want to Forget,” a novel of debilitating circumstances, mocked hopes and fading dreams. Fatima loses her parents and all her belongings in a catastrophic moment that changes her life, but nothing can prepare her for what’s to come. Adopted by her half-brother Saqr, Fatima’s life becomes an experiment of sorts, one in which she is not allowed to be herself and one in which her brother takes away her independence so she no longer understands who she is and what life is meant to be.
Al-Essa’s novel is lyrical and poetic, but desperate and her character, Fatima, is defenseless. Fatima’s life is one tragic event after another as she lives under the tyrannical rule of her older brother. Forced to love poetry, French and literature in secret, her life is squeezed into a narrow tunnel of only the things her brother finds acceptable. Too young to be considered Saqr’s sister, he raises her as his daughter and begins to squeeze any hope out of the young woman. Fatima slowly disintegrates as a person and develops anxiety. Fear becomes a part of her daily life.
Al-Essa has a way of making the reader feel as if they themselves are being oppressed. Her words constrict as she writes of enervating moments in a young girl’s life, from disallowing her to play with dolls, to keeping her from hanging photographs, to forcing her to marry at 17. There is a sense of desperation in the woman who is “tired of being me — not allowed to be me and not allowed to be anyone but me.”
Al-Essa captures the tyranny a woman can face under circumstances that are not within her control and when her caregiver is like a jailer. Her words are heavy as she highlights the moments that change life abruptly. “All That I Want to Forget” was published by Arab Scientific Publishers Inc. in 2013. It was then translated from Arabic into English by Michele Henjum and published by Hoopoe Press in December 2018.