"Rebelling against the constraints of family and society, a young Egyptian woman decides to study medicine, becoming the only woman in a class of men. Her encounters with the other students - as well as with male and female corpses in the autopsy room - intensify her search for identity. She realises that men are not gods, as her mother had taught her, that science cannot explain everything, and that she cannot be satisfied by living a life purely of the mind. After a brief and unhappy marriage, she throws herself into her work, becoming a successful and wealthy doctor. But at the same time, she becomes more aware of the injustice and hypocrisy in society. She comes to find fulfillment, not in isolation, but through her relationship with others. This novel will enhance Dr. Nawal El Saadawi's international reputation as a writer of power and compassion, deeply committed to the rights of Arab women."
"'Like the Russian aristocrats of Chekhov, the provincial bourgeoisie of Flaubert, or the Ibo villagers of Achebe, Idris raises his authentic characters into convincing types within their context: he makes us live their agonies and hopes.' - Ferial Ghazoul.
Cairo, January 1952. Egypt is at a critical point in its modern history, struggling to throw off the yoke of the seventy-year British occupation and its corrupt royalist allies. Hamza is a committed young radical, his goal to build a secret armed brigade to fight for freedom, independence, and national self-esteem. Fawziya is a woman with a mission too, keen to support the cause. Among the ashes of the city love may grow, but at a time of national struggle what place do personal feelings have beside the greater love for a shackled homeland? In this finely crafted novel, Yusuf Idris, best known as the master of the Arabic short story, brings to life not only some of the most human characters in modern Arabic fiction but the soul of Cairo itself and the soul of a national consciousness focused on liberation."
"'This densely detailed, richly textured novel impeccably recreates the milieus of Cairo & London as it recounts the maturing of Asya, a beautiful Egyptian. ... Her impressive and only slightly overlong novel [at 801 pages], with its acutely observed vision of male-female relations as a series of complex power struggles, suggests the emergence of a major new talent.' - Publishers Weekly
Set amidst the turmoil of contemporary Middle Eastern politics, this vivid and highly-acclaimed novel by an Egyptian journalist is an intimate look into the lives of Arab women today. Here, a woman who grows up among the Egyptian elite, marries a Westernized husband, and, while pursuing graduate study, becomes embroiled in a love affair with an uncouth Englishman."
A special thank you to book club member, Julie Jacobs for the suggestion.
"Widely acclaimed as Naguib Mahfouz's best novel, Midaq Alley brings to life one of the hustling, teeming back alleys of Cairo in the 1940s. From Zaita the cripple-maker to Kirsha the hedonistic cafe owner, from Abbas the barber who mistakes greed for love to Hamida who sells her soul to escape the alley, from waiters and widows to politicians, pimps, and poets, the inhabitants of Midaq Alley vividly evoke Egypt's largest city as it teeters on the brink of change. Never has Nobel Prize-winner Mahfouz's talent for rich and luxurious storytelling been more evident than here, in his portrait of one small street as a microcosm of the world on the threshold of modernity."
"'A vivid depiction of slices of Egyptian life, the title and summary of Murder in the Tower of Happiness may make it sound like a standard sort of mystery -- and there is indeed a murder at its heart -- but it is far from most conventional crime fiction.' The Complete Review
A fast-paced city thriller laced with dry humor takes us inside Borg al-Saada (Tower of Happiness), one of the luxury high-rises planted like alien bodies amid the fields along the Nile south of Cairo and inside the sordid lives and lavish lifestyles of its super rich and famous denizens. The naked, strangled body of a beautiful young actress, is discovered in one of the elevators, and as the police investigation gets under way, we meet many of the tower's strange characters: the owner's agent, overweight, toupeed, and decked in gold chains; the wealthy contractor insomniac; a psychic with a Ph.D. in genetic engineering from MIT; Farah, his erstwhile sweetheart, who has become one of the very candy dolls she used to scorn; a belly-dancer who would be able to see Timbuktu if she stood on top of a pile of all her money; the society lady from Chile; and the homely doctor somewhat less well off than his neighbors. And of course there is the naughty boy who roams the tower, enters apartments, and overhears conversations, unsettling and exposing the decadent occupants and their relationships."
Winner of the English PEN Translation Award
"In a surreal, but familiar, vision of modern day Egypt, a centralized authority known as ‘the Gate’ has risen to power in the aftermath of the ‘Disgraceful Events,’ a failed popular uprising. Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate in order to take care of even the most basic of their daily affairs, yet the Gate never opens, and the queue in front of it grows longer.
Citizens from all walks of life mix and wait in the sun: a revolutionary journalist, a sheikh, a poor woman concerned for her daughter’s health, and even the brother of a security officer killed in clashes with protesters. Among them is Yehia, a man who was shot during the Events and is waiting for permission from the Gate to remove a bullet that remains lodged in his pelvis. Yehia’s health steadily declines, yet at every turn, officials refuse to assist him, actively denying the very existence of the bullet. Ultimately it is Tarek, the principled doctor tending to Yehia’s case, who must decide whether to follow protocol as he has always done, or to disobey the law and risk his career to operate on Yehia and save his life.
Written with dark, subtle humor, The Queue describes the sinister nature of authoritarianism, and illuminates the way that absolute authority manipulates information, mobilizes others in service to it, and fails to uphold the rights of even those faithful to it."
A special thank you to book club member, Aisha Esbhani for the suggestion.