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By PAULINE HOMSI VINSON
Flying Carpets By Hedy Habra Greensboro, NC: March Street Press, 2012.
Hedy Habra’s “Flying Carpets” is an enchanting collection of short stories that transports the reader from a childhood in a bygone era of Egypt to scenes set alternately in the United States, France, Lebanon, and Mexico. Each story takes the reader on a magical flight spurred on by longing, loss, and the search for the intangible yet true.
The first story, “Al Kasdir,” sets the tone for the entire collection. With a mix of nostalgia and the supernatural, the story revolves around an incident from the narrator’s childhood in Egypt when she observed the reactions of her mother and aunts to the pronouncements of a fortuneteller. Only after the narrator matures does she recognize the significance of the soothsayer’s words and their connection to the adult world of lost love and missed opportunity.
Most of the stories in the collection delve into the world of magical realism and the surreal, where humans take on animal shapes and ordinary scenes are transformed into forests of fog or translucent water. A few, however, break this pattern. One story juxtaposes the lost opportunities of love due to religious sectarianism in Lebanon with similarly lost opportunities due to racism in the United States. Another story brilliantly dramatizes the senseless violence and division of the Lebanese civil war from the point of view of a cat. In their variety, the stories invite readers to follow meandering paths that lead alternately to tragic loss or marvelous possibilities.
As the stories move from past to present, from Arab to European and American cities, and from stark reality to the ethereal, they probe the common human search for tenderness and eternal bonds of love. Habra’s thoughtful tone, insightful imagination, and cosmopolitan grace infuse her stories with lightness tinged with gravitas, giving her narratives a mysterious quality that lingers in the reader’s mind long after her stories end.