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Tell me a story: Abeer Soliman at Makan

With the aim to revive storytelling culture in Egypt, Abeer Soliman entertained her audience with her reinterpretation of Naguib Mahfouz’s Nights of the Thousand Nights at Makan cultural center last Friday.

Soliman was extremely creative in her retelling of this famous novel. She was accompanied by the famous singer, Sayed Emam, who sang traditional folk songs.

Layali Alf Leila (Nights of the Thousand Nights) is particularly special because of the similarities between the 1970s, when Mahfouz wrote his novel, and now, particularly with regards to political activism. “I’m obsessed with Layali Alf Liela,” said Soliman.

The novel describes how citizens suffer under political oppression. It also gives insight into the human heart, which holds a mixture of both good and evil; in Mahfouz's book, a murderer is also a faithful lover. “This is a man whose heart is divided into black and white squares,” Soliman said, during the evening of storytelling.

To Soliman, who is also a writer (her book, Diary of a Spinster, is based on her blog of the same name), storytelling is a sentimental art. In a dim room, with the audience gathered in a semicircle, the spotlight danced between the storyteller and the musicians. Photos projected on the wall behind Soliman illustrated the stories.

Soliman’s storytelling, in spite of being taken from classic Egyptian literature, has a modern twist. References to locations like the North Coast and contemporary political issues like the Emergency Law, help link the literature to reality, engaging the audience the entire night.

The music successfully conveyed the human emotion in the story. “They balance the equation between the storyteller and the condition of the characters,” Soliman told Al-Masry Al-Youm. The entire experience gave one the feeling of simultaneously reading a novel and watching that novel come to life in a performance.

Some of the audience members were foreigners who could not understand Arabic, but still enjoyed the performance. “I don’t understand a word, yet I like the show so much,” said Mark Stewert, a 35-year-old American.

Soliman is obsessed with telling stories, whether through writing or performance, that describe the pain of an Egyptian. “I enjoy portraying a person's existential crisis,” said Soliman.

Soliman represents a growing trend of preserving and reviving storytelling in Egypt. She is joined in this mission by Al-Warsha theater troupe, Qalat al-Rawia, Ana al-Hekaya, and many others.

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