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Category Archive for 'Egypt'

In Dark Star Safari (2002), author Paul Theroux travels along Africa’s east coast from Egypt to South Africa, through Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and other countries. Though he begins his trip full of hope, he discovers that life on Africa’s east coast, as seen here in 2002, is not what he remembered from his Peace Corps days. Then he had been a volunteer in Malawi and a teacher in Uganda, leaving the country just as Idi Amin came to power. Despite the political upheavals of the 1960′s, his memories of Africa during that time are good ones. In 2002, approaching his sixtieth birthday, he is determined to travel from Cairo to Cape Town, believing that the continent “contain[s] many untold tales and some hope and comedy and sweetness, too,” and that there is “more to Africa than misery and terror,” something he aims to discover as he “wander[s] the antique hinterland.”

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Setting this novel in Cairo in the early to middle part of the twentieth century, Naguib Mahfouz creates a variety of characters who depict the many manifestations of love. Simple in approach, uncomplicated in its depictions of personalities, and firmly rooted in the social structure that Mahfouz himself knew and grew up in, the author provides insights into the love between parent and child, the passionate and totally committed love between a man and woman, thwarted love and the obsession it breeds, the love between friends, and the love of home, neighborhood, and country. Here he recreates the lives of neighborhood people of the middle and upper class, some of them wealthy and some of them much poorer (especially the widows), with all of them firmly entrenched in their own social classes in which few have visions of a future which extends beyond the neighborhood and social milieu they already know. Mahfouz shows that love pays little attention either to social class or to the traditions which govern marriage and courtship. As the novel unfolds, the course of true love is a rocky, even dangerous, proposition filled with universal predicaments similar to those of modern novels set in different places and times.

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Many thanks to Tarek Shahin for granting an interview about his book RISE (reviewed below), a collection of satiric cartoons from the Daily News Egypt from April, 2008 – April 2010, in the lead-up to the Egyptian Revolution. I hope this interview will shed some light on what it is like to be a cartoonist during the tensions near the end of the Mubarak regime and how one finds humor in serious topics:

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Cairo-born cartoonist Tarek Shahin, who counts Garry Trudeau as one of his idols, reveals many of the same insightful, irreverent, and humorous attitudes toward life in this collection of his own cartoons as Trudeau has shown in Doonesbury during his long career. Published every day, from April, 2008, through April, 2010, in the Daily Star, Egypt’s independent English language newspaper, Shahin’s “Al Khan” cartoons foreshadowed the popular revolution which eventually took place in Tahrir Square between January 25 and February 11, 2011. Using daily life and newsworthy events, both social and political, as his inspiration, Shahin provides an unforgettable vision of what life was like in Cairo in the months leading up to the revolution. For a western reader like myself, who saw the revolution from a distance and may have regarded it as a bit of a surprise, Shahin’s cartoons make this momentous event much more personal, immediate, dramatic, and most of all, understandable because the forces leading up to it, along with its full, lasting impact, can be connected with “real” people, even though those “real” people are cartoon characters.

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Claudia Hampton, an iconoclastic, sometimes imperious, often maddening, and completely liberated seventy-six-year-old woman, lies in a nursing home awaiting death—very reluctantly. Having earned her living as a reporter during the Cairo campaign in World War II and later as a popular historian, she sees no reason why she should not continue her work as she awaits death. ‘Let me contemplate myself within my [own] context,” she says, “everything and nothing. The history of the world as selected by Claudia: fact and fiction, myth and evidence, images and documents.” As she fades in and out of consciousness (her nurse wondering aloud to the doctor, “Was she someone?”), she plans her story for her usual readers, indicating that she will omit the narrative but “flesh it out; give it life and color, add the screams and the rhetoric…The question is, shall it or shall it not be linear history? I’ve always thought a kaleidoscopic view might be an interesting heresy. Shake the tube and see what comes out…There is no chronology inside my head. I am composed of a myriad Claudias who spin and mix and part like sparks of sunlight on water..there is no sequence, everything happens at once.” By turns humorous, thoughtful, satiric, wonderfully philosophical, and consummately literary in its observations and allusions, this novel is an absolute treasure, one that will appeal to every lover of serious themes presented in new ways.

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