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

Review: The 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Philippe Blondel, Alison Anderson (Translation)

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The dual narrative provides a psychological and emotional glimpse into old wounds of two former lovers as their paths accidentally cross after many years. An emotional and affecting train ride. Tension builds as each party reveals their recollection along with feelings of hurtful event.

Characters revisit choices made in youth, regrets, hurt, anger all untangled as the story of the former lovers is exposed. An inadvertent meeting sparks a journey of healing when all is said and done. A raw old wound cleverly and openly exposed with the remorse, and anguish blistering to this day, a fateful meeting providing closure after much time has passed. Reflection of past and present and what could or could not have been.

Anyone enduring hurt of any kind without closure will relate to this story. I personally found my own experience parallel to the two characters. Luckily my offender tracked me down after 20+ years to apologize and seek forgiveness – accepted and granted. His olive branch offering provided much and was an unexpected surprise, needless to say it made a huge impact in my life. Youth is ignorance but cruelty is never acceptable.

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Paperback, 170 pages
Expected publication: November 10th 2015 by New Vessel Press
ISBN13: 9781939931269

Review: Death Row Chaplain: Unbelievable True Stories from America’s Most Notorious Prison by Earl Smith, Mark Schlabach

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Educational, raw, extremely provoking. Smith hammers forgiveness, the waste of revenge, and it is never to late to rewrite and redirect your life – change is possible. A very candid account of Earl Smith, his calling to preach – which is affecting, and his experience serving as chaplain in one of the toughest prisons in the country. A man possessing a true gift of communication, a man demonstrating integrity, opening his heart and soul to God with the hopes of making a difference in others lives. An incredible reading journey. Smith provides the peruser with plenty to consider as well as discuss.

I was all over the place emotionally after reading this book. Smith cites examples, takes you into the bowels of prison life, the anguish of victims families as well as convicts families, his own experiences, the overall task of survival in prison life, however, he manages to describe all this with a level of neutrality and honesty. He will tell you his own thoughts and views along with why he feels this specific way, in other words, he gives plenty of back up in his responses. Admittedly I found Smith’s account to be disturbing, a hardcore reality check. I’m still pondering all I read, he has manage to redirect my thinking by reconsidering certain opinions I carried prior to this reading. Memorable story, unforgettable man, his honesty is arresting.

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•Kindle Edition, 256 pages
•Published May 19th 2015 by Howard Books
•ASINB00P42X1KK

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

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: My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

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My Life in Middlemarch
Rebecca Mead
Crown January 28, 2014
Pages 293
ISBN13: 9780307984760
A copy was provided in exchange for an honest review

Goodreads  •  Amazon  •  Indiebound  •  Powell’s Books

Recommendation: 4/5

From Goodreads:
Rebecca Mead was a young woman in an English coastal town when she first read George Eliot’s Middlemarch, regarded by many as the greatest English novel. After gaining admission to Oxford, and moving to the United States to become a journalist, through several love affairs, then marriage and family, Mead read and reread Middlemarch. The novel, which Virginia Woolf famously described as “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people,” offered Mead something that modern life and literature did not.

In this wise and revealing work of biography, reporting, and memoir, Rebecca Mead leads us into the life that the book made for her, as well as the many lives the novel has led since it was written. Employing a structure that deftly mirrors that of the novel, My Life in Middlemarch takes the themes of Eliot’s masterpiece–the complexity of love, the meaning of marriage, the foundations of morality, and the drama of aspiration and failure–and brings them into our world. Offering both a fascinating reading of Eliot’s biography and an exploration of the way aspects of Mead’s life uncannily echo that of Eliot herself, My Life in Middlemarch is for every ardent lover of literature who cares about why we read books, and how they read us.

 

My Thoughts
I have always had an affinity towards British Victorian literature, without saying Middlemarch and Eliot are among my favorites. I was thrilled when I learned someone wrote a book regarding their intimate events reading Middlemarch. Mead provides the reader with such detail on Eliot along with her esteemed peers.

Mead is a competent writer possessing a style that’s attractive and enthralling. Her words glide across the pages in such a sleek manner only boosting the entire narrative and overall reading adventure. Her passion with Middlemarch was evident by her own personal recollection of its influence in her encounters as well as it influencing her life.

If you hold a fondness as I do for Victorian literature, with all certitude you will appreciate this book and Mead’s personal insertions. A novel covering a readers journey, writing and books, this is a must read. Completely enjoyed my time with Mead.

Review: Touch by Adania Shibli

Touch
Adania Shibli
Clockroot Books March 1, 20107629587
Pages 72
ISBN13: 9781566568074

Goodreads  • Amazon  •  Indiebound  

Recommendation: 4/5

From Goodreads:
Touch centers on a girl, the youngest of nine sisters in a Palestinian family. In the singular world of this novella, this young womans everyday experiences resonate until they have become as weighty as any national tragedy. The smallest sensations compel, the events of history only lurk at the edges–the question of Palestine, the massacre at Sabra and Shatila. In a language that feels at once natural and alienated, Shibli breaks with the traditions of modern Arabic fiction, creating a work that has been and will continue to be hailed across literatures. Here every ordinary word, ordinary action is a small stone dropped into water: of inevitable consequence. We find ourselves mesmerized one quiet ripple at a time.

My Thoughts
Shibli’s writing is exquisite. Her prose is fluid with a smoothness leaving the reader mesmerized. Her writing style is subdued without subtracting from what the words communicate.

The narrator is an unnamed young Palestinian girl. We spend time with the protagonist and see the world through her eyes. Shibli engages colors, silence, movement, language and ‘the wall’ as they are interpreted and incorporated into the girls world and senses. Seeing the world through the eyes of an innocent causes the reader to pause. The girl sees things no child should bear witness to. She isn’t desensitized to the events she witnesses but rather possesses a naivety allowing her the inability to fully understand the depth of certain situations.

Touch approaches the horrid massacre at Sabra and Shatila in a compelling manner without this historical and devastating event being the apex of the narrative.

The young girl witnesses death, experiences love, watches a funeral procession, battles with her many siblings, learns to read – these minute experiences pull the reader in deeper and magnifies the reading adventure along with the prose and the narrator.

Both the words and content create a quiet storm. Hypnotizing, urging the reader to examine their surrounding through an abstract lens focusing on the fact less is more. Touch is similar to skimming stones on still water. One stone has the ability to create more than one small ripple in still and placid water.