Home 5 Articles and Reports 5 Kundalini by Mirna El Helbawi : Book Review

Kundalini by Mirna El Helbawi : Book Review

by | Jul 11, 2024 | Articles and Reports

Kundalini by Mirna El Helbawi is a short novel that explores traumas that has shaped the very existence of people, from pre-birth to their current day, all from the perspective of the female protagonist who is also the narrator of the novel.

In Hinduism, Kundalini is a form of feminine energy that is said to be coiled at the base of the spine. The word Kundalini comes from the Sanskrit word meaning “coiled snake.” This energy can then be awakened through yoga, mantras, asanas, and meditation. You may well wonder what is a Kundalini Awakening? It’s a mixed feelings of blissfulness, compassion and empathy as well as increased creativity.

Throughout ‘Kundalini’ the reader is taken through this “awakening’ journey, alongside the protagonist ‘Mirna’, who at the start of the novel seems to have it all, on the surface, she has a stable and well paid job, a loving husband and a seemingly ‘happy’ home life. Yet Mirna informs the reader that she suffers from chronic back pain, is indifferent to everything around her, like a robot with no feelings or desires, or to put correctly, feelings are there but they are of resentments and hate.  She loathes her job at the bank, lost her ability to write as she did once upon a time, feels estranged to her husband and has no emotional desire.

When a colleague at work invites Mirna for a weekend retreat of yoga and meditation, she is sceptical but is soon encouraged to go by her husband and friends to attend this new venture as it might cure her back pain. It is there that Mirna meets Clara the yoga instructor, who plant the idea that her back pain stems from collective traumas rather than a physical reason, she suggests that Mirna joins them on a retreat in Goa, India, where they can work to awaken Mirna’s Kundalini; the real cause of her back pain. Though Mirna is sceptical, she is pushed or encouraged by her friend ‘Shams’ to go as she has lost her identity as well as control of her mood and feelings, following a heated argument with her husband Mirna decides to go to Goa.

It is in Goa that we begin to learn about Mirna’s past and understand where all these negative thoughts and emotion stems from. She was rejected from the day she was born by her father, who like many men from the Arab region, wanted a son who would carry his name and legacy, as well as quieten his family who demanded a boy. Through no fault of her own, Mirna had to live with the knowledge that the father walked out on her mother and sister because of her. That is a heavy load to carry, to know that your existence caused the break up of your family.

But this is just one, and the first of the many rejections and traumas that she will encounter, her first love as a teenager which lasted until her university days, ended abruptly and suddenly as her love interest vanished overnight with no trace or explanation, only to learn years later that he was a drug addict and his family sent him away from Egypt to recover. When she accidently finds him on Facebook she soon discovers that her idol has become a different person and before long he had joined the terrorist group, ISIS.

We also learn that Mirna had experienced sexual harassment and abuse, both as a child and in adulthood and on both occasions she remained silent and never spoke out or reported the incidents. The final aspect of Mirna’s suffering is betrayal, and maybe that is more raw than all the rejection, abandonment, and abuse that she had endured because she reluctantly discloses it towards the end, her husband’s infidelity.

As we end our journey with Mirna, we come to the realisation that her years of suffering in silence and supressing all her emotions led to her loss of creativity, inability to write and her constant back pain. Once she faced all her demons and dealt with every trauma she had ever experienced, Mirna was finally free from her past.

Kundalini is a mix of easy read but a deep one, as in you might finish it in one day but to understand it fully it will take you few days or even weeks to fully grasp the way human body reacts to life events, the manner in which the brain suppresses or deals with traumatic experience and the impact it has on our health.

There aren’t many negative points about the novel as the narrator had ensured through the language and tone that she used, the involvement and attachment of the reader. Though it would have made the novel slightly stronger if other characters were more developed or even better introduced, such as the older sister of the narrator, or what happened to the father after he left them and how did the mother cope after the breakdown of her marriage, all these questions remain unanswered. Nonetheless we have given Kundalini a rating of 8/10.

 Mirna El Helbawi is an Egyptian journalist, writer, podcaster and activist. She is the founder of Connecting Humanity, a non-profit organisation that helps people in Gaza to regain access to the internet, using donated eSIMs. She was nominated for the Arab Journalism Award in 2016. Her debut novel, Mor Methl Al Qahwa, Helw Methl Al Chocola (Bitter Like Coffee, Sweet Like Chocolate) was published in 2018. She also hosts the podcast Helbing.

 

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