“I don’t want you to measure your behavior on what you think is possible human perfection, i.e. your father, and feel inadequate for the rest of your life. I am not perfect or great any more than you can.”
How many times have you heard a father—whether yours or someone else’s—say this to his son? Reading Ali’s letter to his son might spare you needless moments of frustration and despair.
Exit Door is a socio-political Arabic fiction by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere. Fishere created a cacotopia, an imagined nightmarish account of the nine years of Egypt’s post-revolution timeline where all the raised fears, demands, and scenarios took place. The novel is a 483-page letter from Ali to his son Yehia that was written on the 20th of Oct 2020, in 24 hours! Writing was a doddle for Ali; he was the presidential translator for decades. Ali wrote that letter from South China Sea heading for Egypt, on board a commercial cargo ship carrying small nuclear bombs amid thousands of containers, which was raided by the U.S. Navy 24 hours later.
Apparently, Ali was the traitor. His defence was to prevent a bigger crime against the populace and expose his father-in-law, President Al-Qattan’s treason. In case they tarnish his image, Ali wanted his son to hear the whole story firsthand and keep this letter as a proof or plan B if things went awry.
Another implicit reason behind Ali’s letter was redeemed fatherhood—in the form of a letter! Ali spent his life in the hallways of palaces from which he derived a false sense of importance and an excuse for negligence. Moreover, Ali and Yehia were forcibly parted for 5 years when Nada, Ali’s orderly wife, fled with her son and overbearing father Al-Qattan to London. His letter is full of manly insights & confessions, warnings against emotional extortion that parents impose on their children & getting caught up in the current of desire, and paternal advice “Inevitably, you’ll have to push back injustice when it comes to you.”
Ali recounted the past 30 years of his life including lives and deaths, his glassy marriage, his cowardice and ambivalence, his drinking bout, and his awakening. He told Yehia about his first love Dao Ming, his childhood friend Ezzedine, his impulsive friend Mahmoud, his indispensable assistant Abdou, and his sweetheart Noor, “When she speaks, her voice comes out like a hand that rubs your soul.”
Ali’s story started where it ended, in China, and ironically with almost the same people, the military generals: Al-Qattan and Al-Menisy.
Fishere tells the story from the decision-makers’ viewpoint and offers the reader a perspective on consequences and public response. He puts the reader inside the political kitchen among futile activists, scheming politicians, procrastinating governments, and competing political parties. Occasionally, he mentions the youth and grassroots who had come to wield political and cultural power. Fishere vividly conveys the intentions, emotions, and suffering of all the characters through Ali, the political insider.
You can easily focus on the rich and flowing sequence of events after reading the plot in the first few pages. You will relive the old regime, the uprising, and the ruling military council. You will read about the banned ultras-hood, killings, shelling, riots, arson, chaos, popular committees, national salvation governments, negotiations, security reform, more blood, revolutionary court, execution, occupation, and treason.
Exit Door sets off alarm bells through its consequential adverse events. But Fishere does not leave his reader without a chink of hope; Fishere bets on the youth versus the misleading elderly, “Those youth, who did not find role models to emulate, grew up seeking truth, goodness, and beauty nonetheless!”
Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, Egyptian novelist and Professor of political science at the AUC, had published five novels. His fifth novel Embrace by Brooklyn Bridge was long-listed for the prestigious Arabic Booker Prize 2012.