REVIEW: Love is Make-Believe by Riham Adly

Review by J.L. Corbett

Writer: Riham Adly

Publisher: Clarendon House Publications

Release date: November 2021

Price: £8.99

In Love is Make-Believe, award-winning Egyptian writer Riham Adly takes a deep dive into feminism, exploring the joy and the sorrow of modern-day womanhood through a collection of flash fiction stories.

The first few stories are family centric. An adult writes to their enigmatic uncle, telling him that they know his secret (“Blind Bat’s Song”), a schoolgirl wonders whether she and her mysterious friend could be related (“Two Peas in a Pod”), a woman held in a treatment facility rants to the memory of her late mother, desperately seeking catharsis (“Love is Spelled Backwards Because My Mama is no Saint”).

The common thread running through these initial stories is the idea that children often need to fight to make sense of the families into which they have been born, sometimes taking years to fully understand their parents (and thus, themselves). This thought proves to be a good starting point for the journey on which Adly takes us – as we read on, the stories become increasingly fascinating and upsetting as we realise that women are constantly fighting to understand the world into which they have been born, and to comprehend why it is treating them so badly.

The general thesis of the book appears to be that women have it tough (an understatement in 2022). But this book is different from the numerous other books I’ve read on this subject – Adly doesn’t just expose the wound, she jabs at it and makes it hurt, forcing the reader to not only acknowledge the unspoken pain of female oppression, but to understand it, to experience it all over again. As a woman, I’ve felt this pain to some degree, but as a liberal person living in the UK, I’ll never experience many of the shades of misogyny described in these pages.  

The stories become increasingly difficult to stomach as the reader is forced to bear witness to horrible acts of female oppression. Enduring unpleasant sex for fear of retribution (“The Scream”). Assault and a forced marriage (“What Happens When You Drink Whiskey During a Retrograde in a Pandemic”). Female genital mutilation (“The Brief Chronicled History of The Girl as told by the Realist but yet Optimistic African Fortuneteller”).

Each story is told with a distinctive and strong female voice. Though the subject matter can be challenging, there is reassurance in their words, these female characters who have pushed through the darkness to find their freedom. Of course, all these voices are Adly, who in releasing this book is making a bold statement about the things that women will no longer endure.

The stories are written well, each with just enough nuance to be effective. The use of flash fiction (that is, stories with a word count of 1000 or less) is a good choice for this book; it allows Adly to show snapshots of stories across time and around the world, without getting too bogged down in the details. There were some instances where I wanted more closure from a story, but perhaps that’s not the point. After all, oppression has no closure.

On the whole, Love is Make-Believe is a powerful offering from Adly, with refreshingly strong female characters who demonstrate that it is possible to push against the restraints which have been placed upon them. Female readers will be galvanised, male readers will be awakened.

Get your copy of Love is Make-Believe here (UK) or here (USA).

Riham Adly is an award-winning flash fiction writer from Giza, Egypt. In 2013 her story “The Darker Side of the Moon” won the MAKAN award. In 2022 she won second prize in the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition. She is a Best of the NET and a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work is included in the “Best Micro-fiction 2020” anthology.  Her fiction has appeared in over 50 online journals   such as Litro Magazine, Lost Balloon, The Flash Flood, Bending Genres, The Citron Review, The Sunlight Press, Flash Fiction Magazine, Menacing Hedge, Flash Frontier, Flash Back, Ellipsis Zine, Okay Donkey, and New Flash Fiction Review among others.  Riham has worked as an assistant editor in 101 words magazine and as a first reader in Vestal Review magazine. Riham is the founder of the “Let’s Write Short Stories” and “Let’s Write That Novel” in Egypt. She has taught creative writing all over Cairo for years with the goal of mentoring and empowering aspiring writers in her region.  Riham’s flash fiction collection Love is Make-Believe was released and published in November 2021 by Clarendon House Publications in the UK. She is the first African, Arab woman to have a flash fiction collection published in English. Riham shares her craft articles about writing flash fiction through her blog “Riham Writes” and reviews a new flash fiction collection every month on her FB group “Riham Reads Flash”.

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