Lotus Abdel Kerim and the value of beauty in art and life

When the refined Lotus Abdel Kerim regrettably gave me her lavishly elegant book “Journey in Search of Myself: Story of a Life” I felt bad because it is nearly seven hundred pages, which takes a long time to read, and because she combines beauty, intelligence and creative abilities, which means that praising her could be misunderstood as merely being out of courtesy. For she lights the candles of beauty and art and enriches life with her acclaimed salon and her expertise in journalism and culture. It is enough that it was she who persuaded Queen Farida to return to her homeland.
But all that will not absolve me of the courtesy charge that I try hard to evade. Sometimes my keenness on neutrality and impartiality is unfair to my friends.
I seized the opportunity of the Eid al-Adha vacation and read the book. I found in it an intellectual and scientific content, an autobiography, a documentation of the greatest minds of women, a faithful representation of the finest intimate feelings, a deep knowledge of varying cultures, an ability for self-realization through scientific diligence and femininity and a piercing awareness of the pure spiritual satisfaction derived from knowledge and art.
At the beginning I was upset with the diary style used in most parts of the book, but I soon found out that each sentence bears the footprint of her character and the specificity of her language and feelings at the moment it was written.
No one can doubt the authenticity of her writing, for it is impossible for anybody else to express those feelings or write those lines. This fact made ​​me read and enjoy these most important memoirs of a woman in modern Arabic literature.
Her study of philosophy at the University of Alexandria, her scientific expertise in Educational Research at English and French universities, her first and second marriages to Kuwaiti diplomatic and political personalities, her ambassadorial and ministerial posts in that oil-rich Arab country, her suffering from loneliness, disease and pain and her kind and subtle sentiments all make of her autobiography radiant pages in the philosophy of life, the traits of humans and the insights of a woman.
She has skillfully recorded her passion for nature, music and art. She has spotted the beauty of places, paradoxes of cultures and weaknesses of human souls. And she has gazed upon herself from an overall perspective of the stages of her life and through a daily recording of details, names, events, trips and conversations, allowing the reader to enjoy her passion for nature, science and art, and at the same time wonder the crankiness of a woman, the feebleness of a body and the machinations of humans.
Daring awareness
She bravely talks about her family’s history and mentions in the first pages the her uncle Amin Othman liked the British very much just as anyone else who studied in England at that time. His intelligence failed him when he openly said in a lecture at Victoria College when he was finance minister under King Farouk that Egypt and England should not separate at that time, which was deemed an encouragement of colonization. This cost him his life at the hands of Hussein Tawfik, which Sadat, then a member of the Iron Guard, had co-planned because they, and the Royal Palace for that matter, were against any alliance with England.
She did not have to defend her uncle, knowing very well that the patriotic Egyptians condemned him and gloated over his death. Also, it is not true that all of those who studied in England liked the British. She herself studied in England but had reservations on them. But there is no doubt that she was affected since childhood by her family’s endeavor to acquit her uncle and accuse the Royal Palace of conniving against him. For she wrote that her uncle was left to bleed to death at Dr. Moro’s hospital and that the doctor was given the title of Pasha the next day.  
It seems that she is confessing and at the same time cleansing her autobiography, for she also says her father was a womanizer and blames him for the early death of her mother. 
She says: “I could see my mother was tormented. She was pregnant and had asthma. My father prevented her family from visiting her and her doctor from seeing her.”
When her mother died, her father married another woman, which she never forgave him for. Perhaps this explains her rigidity vis-a-vis men and her mistrust in them.
After graduation, she wanted to go on a scholarship to Europe but could not. So she worked as a teacher at the French Lycee School. This helped her mix with the foreign communities of the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria before she left it in the 1950s. 
Having learnt European ways and exercised her freedom fully, she darted to travel to Cairo to work in journalism. She went to a major newspaper and struggled to meet the boss who welcomed her with open arms. He gave her LE50 and asked her to buy French magazines, translate certain articles and bring them over to his private office.
When she went to the address, she found that the office was but a private apartment in a luxury building. He received her with a warm welcome, praised her beauty and promised to appoint her at the Paris office if she surrendered to him. But she ran away disappointed.
She eventually gained experience in dealing with men and understanding their weaknesses. And when her Kuwaiti colleague got her a job in Kuwait, she was hesitant to marry him. But she was compelled to do so when she went there.
She says: “When I married him I saw his annoying naiveté. He had the dryness and roughness of the desert. He was embarrassingly clumsy.He needed to be tamed.” 
But it was he who shaped her future when he took her to study in England, where she tells us of how she was influenced by Western culture and how she developed a passion for music.
Her husband was the charge d'affaires of Kuwait in England, then became ambassador to Italy and later Japan. 
She describes in hundreds of pages the epic of building her character, her experience in life and her love for art and creativity. She describes trips, concerts, colleges, institutes and circles she had been to. She understands cultural differences but does not engage in them. She attends balls and watches her professors and colleagues as they dance the waltz. Suddenly the music stops, the lights go off and the dancers kiss each other. She wonders how they see each other on campus the next day and behave as if they were not kissing the night before. She describes these paradoxes elaborately, smoothly and cleverly.
The harshness of luxury
Whoever wants to realize the role of knowledge and culture in discovering the beauty of art and life, the role of women in forming men, attitudes and events, and the role of the Egyptian in the preparation of Arab societies, should read this autobiography with its extreme self-reprimand, overwhelming joy for the pleasures of life, wealth and intelligence, and long suffering of pain, disease and psychological fragility.
Proof is that although she reached the height of her diplomatic glory as the wife of the ambassador in Japan, she divorces him for his recklessness to look for love, leaving a whole life behind.
She says that he told her when she met him a few months later: “You Egyptians are emotional people while we are Bedouins walking in the desert. If one of us dies, we bury him and continue to walk.”
Here she comments: “He no longer needed me. He learnt how to walk alone to the top. Then he died of cancer.”
There are gaps in this autobiography due to the diary style it was written in, as events get interrupted for months and years because of her sickness or because she decided to omit certain things, such as shortcomings by certain renowned persons. However, the rhythm of the narrative that swings between speed and slowness has an attuned unity of spirit, delicacy of conscience and accuracy of account.
When I read with interest her trip to Spain in the mid-sixties when she was studying there, I found her description highly accurate and candid. Then I read the story of her second marriage to the Kuwaiti businessman Abdel Rahman al-Atiqi, who was minister of several sovereign ministries, and the tragedy of their son Salem.
I also read what she wrote briefly about her relationship with certain sheikhs like al-Shaarawy and Abdel Halim Mahmoud, and with renowned writers and artists like al-Sebaey, Mostafa Mahmoud, Mohamed Abdel Wahab and Ihsan Abdel Qoddous, who told her she could become the most important author in Egypt if she wrote all her experiences. Perhaps this was what stimulated her to write books about Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Youssef Wahby, Mostafa Mahmoud and Queen Farida.
I have personally witnessed some chapters of her working for the Al-Shomoua magazine and her relationship with the queen, a rich experience in discovering the beauty of life and art in contemporary Egyptian culture
There remain pages worth narrating of her experience with politicians from the Sabah family and with President Nasser, especially with their women whose secrets she knew. Secrets that I believe she will keep to herself. 
Yet what she has revealed in this autobiography remains radiant.
Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm

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