Shahd Alshammari’s short story collection Notes on the Flesh is a sharp, raw and brave exploration of the rhythms of the Middle Eastern life. Interweaving stories about the war and the personal, she lays bare the vulnerability and the strength of the body, the female body especially, and focuses on it both as a prize and a limitation.
At times a memoir, at other times fiction, this collection is a telling of the imposition of identity, the conflict of cultures—between a person and their society—and physical limitations that form nearly physical barriers between people.
AlShammari handles themes as big as love, loss and pain in these stories. From women struggling against motherhood, lovers and their own selves to men who are bound by the limitations of their worlds, the collection provides access not just to AlShammari’s native culture but also is a universal comment on the culture of pain, or what happens when the individual struggles to adapt, when the body fails.
AlShammari builds the myth of creation by questioning the very things that most of us lean toward to define ourselves: is it our parents, our society, our experiences or us which makeup the circle which, in this collection, represents possibility? Perhaps all, perhaps some, perhaps none. But somewhere between the notion of the body’s possession as the ultimate prize and love’s occasional failure, the stories lay bare the shock of physicality as relates to the culture of this world. “My hand must have instilled a shocking sensation in her, before even touching hers. She gawked in astonishment at my hand – it was as though I had unknowingly insulted her.” (AlShamari 29)
A brave voice that lifts the veil on disability culture, and much else, in the Middle East AlShammari’s short stories are a portrait of a war being lost even now, an apt counterpart to the rising of women’s movements across the world.