Review of Chronicle of a Last Summer: A Novel of Egypt by Yasmine El Rashid

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About Chronicle of a Last Summer

Cairo, 1984. A blisteringly hot summer. A young girl in a sprawling family house. Her days pass quietly: listening to a mother’s phone conversations, looking at the Nile from a bedroom window, watching the three state-sanctioned TV stations with the volume off, daydreaming about other lives. Underlying this claustrophobic routine is mystery and loss. Relatives mutter darkly about the newly-appointed President Mubarak. Everyone talks with melancholy about the past. People disappear overnight. Her own father has left, too—why, or to where, no one will say.

We meet her across three decades, from youth to adulthood: As a six-year old absorbing the world around her, filled with questions she can’t ask; as a college student and aspiring filmmaker pre-occupied with love, language, and the repression that surrounds her; and then later, in the turbulent aftermath of Mubarak’s overthrow, as a writer exploring her own past. Reunited with her father, she wonders about the silences that have marked and shaped her life.

My Thoughts

“I heard the word revolution all the time but didn’t know exactly what it meant. Nobody answered me when I asked.”

I was captivated from the start. The intricate political views and opinions from the inside, the pauses of ambiguity contributed to my fascination. Purely political driven, conflicting views create interest.

Having a privileged young girl serve as narrator as she comes of age including her politics is insightful. She’s observant, knows when not to ask questions, a sponge soaking in all she hears, sees and is told, she is aware of much more than realized. Not easily influenced as her cousin Dido discovers.

A country and its people changed through the revolving door of power, politics and imprisonment. How life is in a constant state of flux and the days of permanence missed. You definitely feel as if you’re looking from the inside out, a privy intimate glimpse into the political upheaval of this complicated and controversial country through the eyes of a young girl cum young adult.

About Yasmine El Rashidiimage

Yasmine El Rashidi is an Egyptian writer. She is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, and an editor of the Middle East arts and culture quarterly Bidoun. She lives in Cairo, where she is currently translating the works of Egyptian novelist Khairallah Ali.

Expected publication: June 28th 2016 by Tim Duggan Books

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Review: For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu

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Peter wrestles with gender expectations and his own gender identity.

Fu introduces the reader to a family ruled by a quasi tyrannical father heavy on Chinese cultural and traditional beliefs. Although the story focuses on each family member, Peter ultimately becomes the center of the narrative.

Peter, the only male son born of two Chinese immigrants – his life mapped out from the womb by his father. The burden of expectation serves as a yoke around Peter’s neck. Successful, a pillar of strength, marriage along with a family – merely scratching at the life sketched for Peter.

“I drew myself with a stiff halo of hair, swaddled babies around my feet. A satisfied smile from ear to ear. “I want to be a Mommy.”

However Peter hopes for a different life, a life he only shares with his sisters, a hidden secret kept from his parents.

Peter sneaks moments where he can be his authentic self – wearing an apron, cooking, cleaning, dressing up, applying make-up. Tasks performed alone, fearful of how the world will accept her.

“I felt a wave of panic. I never peed standing up. When I had to, I thought of my body as a machine, a robot that did my bidding. A combination of arms and legs and heart and lungs. It had nothing to do with me. My real body was somewhere else, waiting for me. It looked like my sisters’ bodies.”

The story gives hope but it really highlights the pain and isolation of living a life as a lie. How you have to hide your authentic self due to parental disapproval along with societal scorn. Fitting into an unfamiliar an awkward skin feeling as if you’re an unwelcome intruder, clearly knowing your trapped in a body representing the wrong sex.

Fu masters Peter and his brutal and beautiful story. Painful tinged with hope.

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•Paperback, 256 pages
•Published March 10th 2015 by Mariner Books (first published January 14th 2014)
•ISBN13: 9780544538528

Horseman, Pass By by Larry McMurtry

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Horseman, Pass By  
Larry McMurtry

 

Recommendation: 5/5


My Thoughts
Horseman, Pass By tells the story of Homer Bannon, an old-time cattleman who epitomizes the frontier values of honesty and decency, and Hud, his unscrupulous stepson. Caught in the middle is the narrator, Homer’s young grandson Lonnie, who is as much drawn to his grandfather’s strength of character as he is to Hud’s hedonism and materialism.

I was immediately swept away by McMurtry’s eloquent writing. His style is so mesmerizing, seductive and fluid. The reader is drawn into this story from the onset, devouring every page with a thirst for more. I felt the sweltering heat of Texas, the dirt gritty on my skin, yes, his writing is that detailed.

The characters represent the past, present and future, as well as a scapegoat for one despicable man’s anger and hate. I have never in my life loathed a character as much as I loathed Hud. Hud is devious, brutal, a rapist and a thief. He is the devil incarnate, the ugly blemish in this poignant story. Hud is determined, determined to take whatever he can take. Hud’s contrast character is Lonnie, all around great kid craving excitement. Caught between boyhood and one step away from manhood. Short on years but experiencing more than any 17 year old should. McMurtry’s characterization couldn’t be improved upon, he gives us his characters naked, raw, exposed completely to the reader.

Horseman, Pass By is more than a intricate coming of age story, it also tells of no challenge is too great, you just keep going. It is also about change – the times are evolving, move forward.

“All of them wanted more and seemed to end up with less; they wanted excitement and ended up stomped by a bull or smashed against a highway; or they wanted a girl to court, and anyway, whatever it was they wanted, that was what they ended up doing without.”

Horseman, Pass By is disturbing, alluring and unforgettable. McMurtry wrote this novella over 50 years ago, a prelude to his incredible writing talent and illustrious career. A timeless classic in every way, a must read.

Review: Schooling by Heather McGowan

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Schooling
Heather McGowan
June 19th 2001 by Doubleday
Pages 320
ISBN13: 9780385501385

Recommendation: 3/5

 

From Goodreads:
Schooling is a portrait of an adolescent girl, thirteen-year-old Catrine Evans, who following her mother’s death is uprooted from her home in America to an English boarding school. There she encounters classmates who sniff glue and engage in arson and instructors who make merciless fun of her accent. She also finds the sympathetic chemistry teacher Mr. Gilbert, who offers Catrine the friendship she so desperately wants–a friendship that gradually takes on sinister and obsessive overtones.

My Thoughts
I applaud Heather McGowan’s debut effort Schooling. Most impressed with McGowan’s use of stream of consciousness style which adds texture and depth to both narrative and characters.

Schooling is a sophisticated and involved coming of age story of 14 year old Catrine. Catrine is a young girl facing many issues at once. Banished to boarding school, ignored by her father. Young Catrine craves love and attention and gains the attention of her chemistry teacher Mr Gilbert. What begins as an innocent relationship soon turns in to much more with a somewhat shocking ending.

Catrine did not appeal to me at all in the beginning. However, I found myself lost in her thoughts, thanks to McGowan’s style. I began to understand her and she subsequently grew on me. Initially she comes across as opportunistic almost calculating, sneaky but really she’s a tortured soul, suffering from so much upheaval in her life and most of all a ‘secret’ gnawing away at her. She’s complex but what 14 year old isn’t. Her issues add to the storyline and her cat-and-mouse attraction to Mr Gilbert makes for interesting sexual tension. Catrine and Mr Gilbert have a very interesting dynamic which leaves the reader guessing at what will transpire next.

McGowan’s style might not appeal to all but it really does add to this narrative. Looking forward to reading more from this bold and innovative author. Surprising this was her first novel, very seasoned writing for a green author.

Review: Agostino by Alberto Moravia

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Agostino
Alberto Moravia
NYRB Classics July 8, 2014
Pages 128
ISBN13: 9781590177235
A copy was provided in exchange for an honest review

Goodreads  •  Amazon  •  Indiebound  •  Powell’s Books

Recommendation: 3/5

From NYRB
Thirteen-year-old Agostino is spending the summer at a Tuscan seaside resort with his beautiful widowed mother who takes up with a new companion. Agostino, feeling ignored and unloved, begins hanging around with a group of local young toughs, unable to make sense of his troubled feelings.

My Thoughts
Moravia addresses sexuality through the eyes of a thirteen year old young man burgeoning adolescence facing a summer of angst and turmoil. Realizing his mother is also a woman in every sense of the word and meaning, he finds his sexual attraction to her torturous and somewhat confusing. Innocent, uninformed this youth crosses paths with a group of street urchins and learns a worldly, unsavory side of life along with behavior he never knew existed.

Agostino wrestles with the changes and thoughts he is feeling, the sensual stirrings and jealousy towards his mother and her young beau. Desperately trying to squash his overbearing desire for his mother, we ride the wave of emotions puberty’s ugly head arouses along with its awkwardness.

Agostino’s mother’s self-absorption along with her amorous young suitor causes her to ignore the fact her boy is on the precipice of manhood. You have a clear sense she is unware of her son’s recent blatant behavior changes and attitude towards her bur rather she’s in tune with her own sexuality inducing blindness to her sons blossoming curiosity. A frustrating, bold and provocative read, very interesting perspective of sexuality through the eyes of a thirteen year old male.

Moravia brilliantly explores the relationship between a single woman and her teenage son as he embarks on his journey into manhood with little knowledge and even less guidance. Insightful piece of literature as well as heavy subject matter introduced.

“But the intensity of his filial vanity and the turmoil of his infatuation would linger with him for many years to come.”

Review: In Praise of Hatred by Khaled Khalifa

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In Praise of Hatred
Khaled Khalifa
Thomas Dunne Books April 8, 2014
Pages 320
ISBN13:  9781250052346

GoodreadsAmazonIndieboundPowell’s Books

Recommendation: 4/5

From Goodreads:
In 1980s Syria, a young Muslim girl lives a secluded life behind the veil in the vast and perfumed house of her grandparents. Her three aunts—the pious Maryam, the liberal Safaa, and the free-spirited Marwa—raise her with the aid of their ever-devoted blind servant. Soon the high walls of the family home are no longer able to protect the girl from the social and political chaos outside. Witnessing the ruling dictatorship’s bloody campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood, she is filled with hatred for the regime and becomes increasingly radical. In the footsteps of her beloved uncle, Bakr, she launches herself into a fight for her religion, her country, and ultimately, for her own future. Against the backdrop of real-life events, In Praise of Hatred is a stirring, layered story that echoes the violence currently plaguing the Middle East.

My Thoughts
Khalifa creates a powerful narrative with an extremely fascinating protagonist. Banned in Syria after it was published in Beirut, my curiosity was instantly ignited. “Banned” always captures my attention and given my inquisitive nature I HAD to read this intriguing novel.

Our narrator is a nameless young girl. She resides with her aunts and finds herself drifting away from her family. Visiting her parents and family out of duty as opposed to emotional appeal.

Her story is gritty, dark and provoking. The entire novel is penetrating, leaving the reader feeling intrusive and encroaching. Unfamiliar territory makes the reader uncomfortable creating a fine line between the narrative being fiction or non-fiction. Eerily plausible and the hatred seeping from the protagonist is tangible. Given the recent and ongoing events occurring in Syria, Khalifa’s writing is searing making for quite an affecting read. Our young protagonist references “infidel West” among many other examples she feels antagonism towards leaving an unpleasant taste in the audiences mouth. With her direct and brutal comments, you find yourself enthralled, turning every page.

Our young protagonist is introduced to ‘hate’ when she is taught Satan creeps within her body. As puberty begins, she despises her body’s betrayal. Any young woman flaunting her body is despised by our main character.

As she learns of the significant battle between the Syrian government and the Muslim Brotherhood, she begins to despise the government and begins her descent from a conservative discipline to a hardcore radical teaching. Her hatred escalates as the violence and injustices increase. Her family is divided and torn by the horrific battle of sects.

An eye opener of a story, especially through the eyes of a young Muslim girl. The events are real, the setting taking place in 1980’s, the story rings all too plausible as this family and Syria deal with the conflict.

The level of hatred towards sects, infidels and anything in opposition is frightening. I never realized the magnitude of hate or the lengths taken against outsiders. Such strong convictions all based on differences, willing to kill, willing to be killed. Hatred is powerful and this novel is an example of how strong hatred can be. Disturbing story, educational and terrifyingly memorable. Khalifa exposes Syria, its people, government and readers to its dark underbelly, raw, candid. Three groups with three distinct agendas for their Syria, blood spilled, injustices repeated and what gain has been made except body counts, with hatred no one prevails.