In her collection of deeply multicultural short stories, Flying Carpets
, Hedy Habra, who speaks nearly a half dozen languages, examines her experiences growing up in Lebanon and Egypt; she has experience living in the Middle East, Belgium, Greece, and the United States. Each of the stories focuses on elements of imagination, wonder, and the dream world, as the collection's title might suggest. The book is separated into four sections; the first is set in Egypt, the second in Lebanon, the third in various fantasy worlds, and the fourth is a deeply abstract composition.
In the first collection of stories, set in Egypt, the main themes include issues around young women and marriage – particularly, that women are made to believe that marriage is essential to their happiness, which many of her main characters question. In one story, a young woman watches as a group of windows partake in a prophetic ritual called kasdir, which is meant to foretell the likelihood that each of the women will remarry. The main character is skeptical of their desperation, though not judgmental; rather, she wonders about her own future, questioning her belief in her need to rely on a husband for happiness.
In another story, “Mariam,” a wealthy family takes in an orphan as a servant. She grows up raising the spoiled children of the household, eventually growing weary of her life of manual labor and drudgery, and her limited prospects in the world. She counters the idea that family life is bliss by imagining herself, not as a rich landowner with small, spoiled children like her employer, rather, she dreams of disappearing on a magic carpet, traveling all over the world, and watching from above.
Habra focuses on Lebanon in the second section of Flying Carpets
. Here, the stories become increasingly more complex in their realism
and their depiction of failing marriage, as well as the social structures around inter-racial and inter-faith marriages. One story depicts a Christian girl and a Muslim boy, who fall in love with each other while spending the summer at a resort in the mountains of Lebanon. Though they had not yet considered their future together, their parents immediately condemn the relationship when they return home, telling them that they have no potential together because of their different faiths. In another story, two young female medical students seek the help of a fortune-teller after one of them experiences a painful and sudden break-up.
In the third section, Habra dives into the fantastical more deeply. Some of the stories in this and the last section are based on mythologies or imagined gods and goddesses. In some of these stories, the human characters are transformed into animals. Often, storytellers play a prominent role in events, inspiring characters who dream of having a better life or another way of living. Habra tells the story of people who live with condor wings and a woman who only finds happiness after she falls from heaven with a stonecutter, who saw her as she truly was.
Ultimately, each of these stories is rooted in the human desire for happiness, love, understanding, and a good life. Though most of the characters are female and Habra is obviously interested in exploring issues around women, love, and the conventions of various societies around the globe, there are a few male characters that reveal their desire for happiness and love as well.
Hedy Habra is a multicultural author of short fiction, poetry, and literary criticism, among other works. She has published two collections of poetry, and a book of literary criticism in Spanish. She speaks a number of languages, including French, Arabic, Spanish, and English. Flying Carpets
, her only collection of fiction to date, won an honorable mention for the Arabic American National Book Award in Fiction and was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award and the 2014 USA Best Book Award. Habra was raised in Heliopolis, Egypt, and studied to be a pharmacist before she received a Masters degree in English and writing and a PhD in Spanish literature.