“Rhythmic Exercise” by Mohamed Makhzangi

April, 2024
Gabby Kaputa

Mohamed Makhzangi is an Arab writer and doctor known in the literary world for his novels and short stories; his experiences in the two fields of study allow him to blend both scientific research and storytelling into his writing style. In 2006, Makhzangi published his first novel, called “Memories of a Meltdown,” which focused on his time as a doctor in Ukraine. After the novel's popularity, Makhzangi moved on to write for Al-Arabi, a culture magazine revolving around important aspects of the Arab world. He continued writing for these magazines for 12 years, while also writing many short stories, his most popular being “Rhythmic Exercise.”

“Rhythmic Exercise” is about a family living through a war in the Middle East. While the family is safe and content in their apartment, they eventually fall into depression due to their confinement and develop a sense of guilt due to the fact that they are safe while others are dying in the war; after a few months they also become overweight due to their lack of movement, which incentivizes the daughter—who remains unnamed throughout the story—to propose using at-home workouts in order to stay fit and attain a sense of happiness; they soon find themselves incorporating these workouts as a routine in their everyday lives. The physical exercises allow the family to cope through the war and momentarily ignore the fact that they live in a warzone, which allows them to regain some semblance of normalcy. This works for the time being and the family finds themselves more at peace as they forget about the real world outside and narrow their viewpoint to their exercises and life inside; however, their peace is interrupted when a stray bullet flies through their window, which brings them back to reality and causes them to realize that they are in danger.

I really enjoyed reading this short story as it was structured in a way that I had never read before. While the story begins with the war at its peak and the family having to go into a quarantine, the way the story was told had me forgetting that detail as I was swept up into the family's small world perspective which allowed me to feel their emotions changing throughout the story. This made the ending where the bullet flies through the window all the more shocking because it brought me as a reader back to the central yet forgotten plot point of the story—the war—and allowed me to feel the same emotions the family was feeling, as they realized that they are still in imminent risk in this active warzone. Overall, I really enjoyed this piece and felt it to be so emotionally shocking. It caught me off guard at times, making it a story worth revisiting two or three times to fully appreciate the writing.