Mish Muhem Book Review in ArabAd Magazine

Mesh Mohem’ A Graphic Designer’s Blunt View on Life, Society and Everything ‘mohem’ in Between (by Ghada Azzi) October 2010

Although most short stories at first glance may seem to be simply fictional tales about people and situations that don’t exist, this is not the case in ‘Mesh Mohem’ (literally meaning, it’s not important!), a collection of short stories and quotes of wisdom signed Asameena, nickname for Afifeh Halabi’s first publication.

Most of the short stories and notes in this little book are actually the author’s personal views, criticisms of specific cultural values and social conventions veiled by an interesting emotional and engaging character disclosed in most of the scribbled thoughts, as Halabi’s doubts, fears, opinions and suggestions are waved into allegorical fragmented stories and inspired beliefs.In a style and tone appropriate to the great occasion, her writings are thoughtful poetic explanations of her stances on the world; and her rough-hewn lyrics, packed with thought and feeling, draw lively pictures of her life and the social system she grew and lives in. Filled with plenty of allusions to the Lebanese way of being, the book can be viewed as a dark, yet light diagnosis of a disillusioned young adult who is exploring and mapping the modern world and her cultural milieu, including a record of her experiences and pondering from 2006 till 2010, since the time she lived in Dubai and back to her home land, Lebanon.

With wit and charm, Halabi’s social ideals are disclosed through social criticism, as she looks at society as a total stranger, with bitterness and a soft anger. However, and while her social ideals serve her personal interests, they also promote the general interest. In each page, the author integrates her thoughts about society into this semi-autobiographical story of a girl’s descent into her deep being and hidden soft madness in spite of and partly because of the predominant folklore and applicable social rules that restricts her freedom, denies her creativity and prevents her from behaving as a normal human.With a flair for paradoxical phrases and informal sentences, Halabi expounds her intimate views, through a pleasant layout of a clever design where she favoured a rather simplistic look and feel, intentionally messing with fonts in this black and white coloured booklet, where few visuals and an interplay between short quotes and longer short stories, are all novel vehicles for Halabi’s philosophical and social preachments; a body of distinguished view points and social commentary, all conceived of realism, as a truthful portrayal of the author’s ordinary and less ordinary facets of life.

This book greatly sounds as Halabi’s act of affirmation, a form of freedom that rejects prefabricated thoughts and behaviours in this irrational society.In fact, her social criticism seems pretty effective because she is committed, genuine, and involved. In brief, it is critical thinking unleashed, and an unsparing portrayal of contemporary life, and the society that tends to be frankly folkloric or too modern to be genuine: a rich, light and amusing–when not satirical at times–reflection on love, life, the Arab society, Lebanon, and all in between, by a young Lebanese graphic designer with a salty personality of her own and an individual way of thinking. This collection of short stories succeed in showing the ideas, beliefs, emotions, and experiences of the common man in a great period of individualism. The reader may feel a substantial influence from Ziad Rahbani and Ghada Samman, two prolific Lebanese authors who have obviously been of great inspiration to Halabi’s life guiding principles and convictions.

Wonderfully clear, and informed by a deep commitment to leading a life freed from masques and artifice, her interpretation and social criticism is clearly omnipresent all through and extremely relevant to contemporary debates on the making of social change. Every culture, if it is to thrive, must listen to the voices of its own citizens.Halabi won’t have a hard time winning a following because she is frank and unconventional in her thinking, because she uses free verse rather than rhymed or regularly metered verse, and because her thoughts are not conventionally organised. The merits of Halabi’s great little book can indeed be found in her lucid perspective and communication, with common sense being a good guide here… Another reason for this appealing book is the author’s poetic fervour and practical arguments, which find expression through an easily understood language and impassioned words and phrases long to be remembered and quoted. Remarkable for a first book, this is as good a page turner: entertaining and engaging.  ArabAd heartily recommends ‘Mesh Mohem’. –G.A.