An anti-profile, Jeffrey Fleishman’s “Viewing Life from the Roof,” is a series of snapshots from the life of Alia Qotb, who lives on an anonymous rooftop in Cairo. In  language that floats between poetry and prose, Fleishman recounts vignettes from a woman nearing 70, born in the basement of the building she now lives on top of—in a hut without running water or a toilet.

This Los Angeles Times article shows Qotb drifting away from her difficult present with the disabled husband whom “she looks at as if she wants him to go away” to fond memories of her first marriage at the age of 12. A neighbor from a higher roof across the alley who has a TV and a second room looks down on her with pity.

Fleishman includes information about Egypt’s poor but seems more interested in creating a narrative from the movement between a bleak existence on the rooftop and Qotb’s interior life. He evokes the present skillfully, with Qotb knowing “what the neighbors are cooking, she can smell the garlic and coriander, hear the stirring of pots, a tin symphony beneath her feet.” But much of Qotb’s story is located in her past with the first husband who abandoned her. “I was elegant. I wore heels,” she says. “He used to leave me money in the closet.” Fleishman completes this unconventional narrative loop by folding space and time, ending with an image of an ornate wedding dress hanging at street level in the window of a dry cleaner, ready for a wedding more magnificent than anything Qotb has known but kindred to the brilliance of her memories.

Read “Viewing Life from the Roof,” by Jeffrey Fleishman

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