The Signature Of All Things

“The old cobbler had believed in something he called “the signature of all things”-namely, that God had hidden clues for humanity’s betterment inside the design of every flower, leaf, fruit, and tree on earth. All the natural world was a divine code, Boehme claimed, containing proof of our Creator’s love.” 

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Cairo

This is not at all a recommendation to buy, quite the contrary, the book is an alarmingly disappointing read. Intrigued to buy by the fact that events unfold in our beloved Cairo only to discover that Somerville has spun the tale to unsuspecting readers such that Cairo is an “exotic” and dangerous primitive place with desert and villages and tribal gangs.

Yet among page after page of cliché and a less than charming attempt at an action packed adventure, were a couple of paragraphs I felt worthy of sharing with you. Kindly don’t interpret this as a book recommendation, I wholeheartedly regret the purchase.

“Cairo was on the surface a city of filth, chaos and ruins. But to those who were able to sink in to, Cairo was Al Kahira – The Triumphant, teeming with people, ebullient, enveloped in the past, kinetic, yielding, collapsing and constantly rebuilding itself out of the debris”.

His description of driving in Cairo hits too close to home not to share, it was the only part of the book where he had me smiling of a whole page 🙂

Farouk drove his car as if the brakes had not only failed but long ago been ripped from the vehicle and replaced with only a horn. His response to all oncoming obstacles – camels, schoolchildren, bicycles, donkey carts, the infirm hobbling across the road – was to accelerate towards them, honking and cursing, merciless in his impatience. But he would demonstrate monk-like tranquillity behind trucks blocking narrow streets or with leisurely workers smoking and slowly moving split-bamboo cages containing chickens or piles of bricks.

The greatest enemy of all was that many-headed monster the Other Driver, with his murderous incompetence, psychotic competitiveness and profound visual impairment. Such cars were passed with unceasing incantations. In case of extreme provocation there was an escalating scale of response. Driving past and staring like a wrathful Hindu God was the least severe. Throwing both hands heavenward was the next level. The most serious and frequent reprisal was to wind down the window and articulate the anatomy of the offending driver’s mother. It was always the absent mothers who took the punishment. Fin wondered if, on some subtle level, they were actually responsible.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

You know your job is taking over your brain when the most memorable quote from a murder mystery is one about the economy. Here you go:

The idea that Sweden’s economy is headed for a crash is nonsense. . . .You have to distinguish between two things–the Swedish economy and the Swedish stock market. The Swedish economy is the sum of all the goods and services that are produced in this country every day. There are telephones from Ericsson, cars from Volvo, chickens from Scan, and shipments from Kiruna to Skovde. That’s the Swedish economy, and it’s just as strong or weak today as it was a week ago. . . .The Stock Exchange is something very different. There is no economy and no production of goods and services. There are only fantasies in which people form one hour to the next decide that this or that company is worth so many billions, more or less. It doesn’t have a thing to do with reality or with the Swedish economy. . . .It only means that a bunch of heavy speculators are now moving their shareholdings from Swedish companies to German ones. So it’s the financial gnomes that some tough reporter should identify and expose as traitors. They’re the ones who are systematically and perhaps deliberately damaging the Swedish economy in order to satisfy the profit interests of their clients.”

I’ve been screaming the same about our economy, couldn’t believe when I saw the views in print. Good book overall, quite the entertaining read.

Perfume

Still reading, just couldn’t wait.

As you know, I have a thing for book introductions.

In eighteenth century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His story will be told here. His name was Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, and if his name – in contrast to the names of other gifted abominations, de Sade’s, for instance, or Saint-Just’s, Fbuche’s, Bonaparte’s, etc. – has been forgotten today, it is certainly not because Grenouille fell short of those more famous blackguards when it came to arrogance, misanthropy, immorality, or, more succinctly, to wickedness, but because his gifts and his sole ambition were restricted to  a domain that leaves no traces in history: to the fleeting realm of scent.

I have yet to see the movie, yet the book is written so beautifully and focusing on such an intangible aspect of life that I’m very skeptic of their ability to carry it over to the silver screen.

Moonlight knew no colors and traced the contours of the terrain only very softly. It covered the land with a dirty gray, strangling life all night long. This world molded in lead, where nothing moved but the wind that fell sometimes like a shadow over the gray forests, and where nothing lived but the scent of the naked earth, was the only world that he accepted, for it was much like the world of his soul.

Heavily recommended, more excerpts as I wrap up the book.

Have an amazing day.

The Book Thief

Book comes with a childish cover and a really tacky tag line “When Death Tells A Story, You Really Have to Listen”. It also came with great recommendations from one of the most avid readers I know. So I borrowed her copy and for days all I could do was tweet lines from Zusak’s novel being unable to underline them in the book and not wanting to lose them. 100 pages into the book I caved, I bought myself a copy so I can comment away to my heart’s content and gave her back hers.

That good? Absolutely. For me Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is nothing short of riveting. Mind you, this isn’t a flashy action packed tale. This is a story of a young girl in Nazi Germany as narrarated by none other than death himself. Girl witnesses death a lot, and whenever the grim reaper comes to take a soul, he takes a special interest in her little life. The story isn’t extravagant, possibly not even that unique, yet for all practical purposes it was brilliant. The reason for this brilliance not being what he wrote, but rather how he wrote. He wrote beautifully. Not a cliché sentence in 580 pages. His imagery, word choices and descriptive ability have rendered me unable to write for weeks, utterly intimidated by him.

Will leave you with some examples of what I mean.

Book opens as follows: “Here is a small fact. You are going to die. I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, thought most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s only the As. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.”

“A definition not found in the dictionary. Not leaving: An act of trust and love, often deciphered by children.”

“That was when a great shiver arrived. It waltzed through the window with the draught. Perhaps it was the breeze of the Third Reich, gathering even greater strength. Or maybe it was just Europe again… breathing.”

“Opportunity leads directly to another, just as risk leads to more risk, life to more life, and death to more death.”

“Eleven-year-old paranoia was powerful. Eleven-year-old relief was euphoric.”

Death’s take on war:

“I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men. They are not. They are running at me.”

“Day after day: the conversation of bullets. Resting men. The best dirty jokes in the world. Cold sweat – that malignant little friend – outstaying its welcome in the armpits and trousers.”

“The relief struggled inside him like an obscenity.”

“Or like a timetabled train, arriving at a nightly platform, pulling the memories behind it on a rope. A lot of dragging. A lot of awkward bounces.”

“The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be at the right place at the right time. The consequence of this is that I am always finding humans at heir best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both. Still they have one thing that I envy. Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die.”

“The sun stirs the earth. Round and round, it stirs us, like stew.”

“Sometimes I think my papa is an accordion. When he looks at me and smiles and breathes, I hear the notes.”

Book Launch/ Book Signing Event

Dear Blog Readers,

It brings me great pleasure to announce that my book will finally be on shelves, please join us for the official launch event.

Meet the people behind the book, chat up the publisher, get your copy signed and grace us with your presence.

Time and Date: Monday the 9th of August at 7 pm.

Location: Sherouk’s Mohandseen Outlet

Address: 21 Mohamed Kamel Morsi Street, off Batal Ahmed Abdel Aziz Street (that’s the right right after Mobil while heading towards 6 October bridge).

Can’t wait to see you all!

Juka

Macondo

Now that the crisis is coming to an end, does anyone else find it very intriguing that the name of the BP well reeking all the havoc is “Macondo”. I couldn’t help but notice how ironically Márquez it was. All I can conjure was mental images of the rivers of blood flowing down the streets of the literary Macondo. Death and destruction seem linked to the name.

“City of Glass”

The world on your shoulders?

Yes, so to speak. The world, or what’s left of it.

I hadn’t realised it was as bad as that.

It’s that bad. Maybe even worse.

Ah!

You see, the world is in fragments, sir. And it’s my job to put it back together again.

You’ve taken on quite a bit.

I realise that. But I’m merely looking for the principle. That’s well within the scope of one man. If I can lay the foundation, other hands can do the work of restoration itself. The important thing is the premise, the theoretical first step.

…….

You see I’ve understood the need to limit myself. To work within a terrain small enough to make all results conclusive.

The premise of the premise, so to speak.

That’s it exactly. The principle of the principle, the method of operation.

—————————————————————————————————————————————

He played jauntily and with flair, crisp and looping figures in the minor mode, as if glad to be there with his mechanical friends, enclosed in the universe he had created, never once looking up. It went on and on, always finally the same and yet the longer I listened the harder I found it to leave.

To be inside that music, to be drawn into the circle of its repetitions: perhaps that is a place where one could finally disappear.

An Orwell State of Mind

I had halted on the road. As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant – it is comparable to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery – and obviously one ought not to do it if it can possibly be avoided. And at that distance, peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. I thought then and I think now that his attack of “must” was already passing off; in which case he would merely wander harmlessly about until the mahout came back and caught him. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him. I decided that I would watch him for a little while to make sure that he did not turn savage again, and then go home.

But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly.

And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the “natives,” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing – no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

>>>>>>>>>>

Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.

On Getting Published

OK, those who know me know that it’s been on my new year resolution lists and on my bucket lists since 2005. This ambitious dream has met with some interesting setbacks, my inability to write anything longer than 10 pages, fact that I got bored easy, laziness, upon actual completion of something the difficulties of getting published in English in a city like Cairo. Publishing houses will tell you that people barely read, those who do, read Arabic, what little English people bother to buy must have been on the NY best seller list for a while.

This discouragement was the reason I started this blog, Ramblings of a Disoriented Mind, the name of the short story I had at the time. I’ve written others since, you’ll find a couple on this blog broken up in pieces and some of my closer friends have actually read a draft of a working progress of a novel. Their feedback has been generous, sweet, supportive and instrumental. I hope to someday have that story see the light.

Meanwhile, in the real world, established published authors are going through hell. I couldn’t fathom the extent of the damage, yet when an author feels frustrated and ripped off enough to throw a coup d’etat you know something is amiss.

Marwa Rakha has decided she has had it with it all and is making her book available for free online in a digital format. So for all of you who had read my review and were reluctant; for all those who couldn’t get their hands on a hard copy; for all who appreciate the ability to read off your monitors at work, here you go an easy access freebie! Download it, read it, let her know what you thought.

For more on how Arab writers are being mistreated see here.

To download Rakha’s book, click here.

Would love to know what you all think? To e-book or not to e-book? Are publishing houses obsolete? Would you pay for electronic media you could get for free?

Juka’s Fave Quotes from “Devour, Plead, Adore” ;)

“I have a history of making decisions very quickly about men. I have always fallen in love fast and without measuring risks. I have a tendency not only to see the best in everyone, but to assume that everyone is emotionally capable of reaching his highest potential. I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than with the man himself, and I have hung on to the relationship for a long time (sometimes far too long) waiting for the man to ascend to his own greatness. Many times in romance I have been a victim of my own optimism.”

(On a personal level, that applies even in friendship and business)

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”

(Amen to that!)

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”

(Some of them are reading.. so for all it is worth THANK YOU)

“You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight.”

(Message received)

“Time — when pursued like a bandit — will behave like one; always remaining one country or one room ahead of you, changing its name and hair color to elude you, slipping ou the back door of the motel just as you’re banging through the lobby with your newest search warrant, leaving only a burning cigarette in the ashtray to taunt you.”

(So much for burning daylight..)

“If I love you, I will carry for you all your pain, I will assume for you all your debts (in every definition of the word), I will protect you from your own insecurity, I will protect upon you all sorts of good qualities that you have never actually cultivated in yourself and I will buy Christmas presents for your entire family. I will give you the sun and the rain, and if they are not available, I will give you a sun check and a rain check. I will give you all this and more, until I get so exhausted and depleted that the only way I can recover my energy is by becoming infatuated with someone else.”

(I can so see that happening.. 😦 )

“Still, despite all this, traveling is the great true love of my life. I have always felt, ever since I was sixteen years old and first went to Russia with my saved-up babysitting money, that to travel is worth any cost or sacrifice. I am loyal and constant in my love for travel, as I have not always been loyal and constant in my other loves. I feel about travel the way a happy new mother feels about her impossible, colicky, restless, newborn baby–I just don’t care what it puts me through. Because I adore it. Because it’s mine. Because it looks exactly like me. It can barf all over me if it wants to–I just don’t care.”

(I need a visa in my new passport.. I need a trip!)

“The Yogic sages say that all the pain of a human life is caused by words, as is all the joy. We create words to define our experience and those words bring attendant emotions that jerk us around like dogs on a leash. We get seduced by our own mantras (I’m a failure… I’m lonely… I’m a failure… I’m lonely…) and we become monuments to them. To stop talking for a while, then, is to attempt to strip away the power of words, to stop choking ourselves with words, to liberate ourselves from our suffocating mantras.”

(Forget words.. give in to music… still obsessing about learning the guitar)

This is the supreme lesson of karma ( and also of western psychology, by the way)- take care of the problem now, or else you’ll just have to suffer again later when you screw everything up the next time. And that repetition of suffering-that’s hell. Moving out of that endless repetition to a new level of understanding-there’s where you’ll find heaven.”

(Cat… tail.. chase… outgrew… FLAWED!)

“And what will I be able to do tomorrow that I cannot yet do today?”

(Response: On behalf of the Society of Procrastinators Anonymous.. LOL)

“I can help them. I am so equipped to help. All the antennas I’ve ever sprouted throughout my lifetime that have taught me how to read what people are feeling, all the intuition I developed growing up as the supersensitive younger child, all the listening skills I learned as a sympathetic bartender and an inquisitive journalist, all the proficiency of care I mastered after years of being somebdy’s wife or girlfriend – it was all accumulated so that I could help ease these good people into the difficult task they’ve taken on.”

(Reminds me of a friend.)

“Tutti in Italian means Everybody…….. So that’s the final lesson isn’t it? When you set out in the world to help yourself, you inevitably end up helping Tutti.”

(Adam Smith flashbacks)

“If you tell me slowly, I can understand quickly”.

(I’m sorry?)

Overall… a slow read but has some moments of brilliance! Go check it out.

Summer Reads

Hmm.. well for the longest time I had been reading nothing but Finance, tons and tons of it. So the instant the exam was over I started catching up on my fun reading, as the stack of untouched shiny new books in my library had a hypnotising distracting effect for the duration of the study months.

So, a quick scan of the aftermath of an insanely hectic summer. We’ve been moving premises at work, undertaking the whole process of selecting a flat, designing the decore, selecting furniture and overseeing execution. Hence in addition to our normal jobs we’ve all taken on some (lets for the sake of the argument call them that) “artistic” duties. Moreover, we’ve been working office-less (also read out of my car, off my dinner table, out off the boss’ living room) and hence have been a rather virtual office.

I digress.. I, amidst some time off to myself and this madness, have had the pleasure of some non-CFA reading. Some overdue quick reviews.

1) The Unbearable Lightness of Being (June mainly):
See here for review.

2) ظل الأفعى (End of June – Beginning of July):

Youssef Zidane’s first novel. A short yet highly entertaining highly informative read. If you are fanatic or offend easy in any way, don’t bother. Book is a historical trip set in the context of a modern day marriage and the wife’s mystical correspondence with her ominous mother. Zidane shows off his knowledge and his vast reading as he effortlessly jumps eras, topics and cultures pausing at random bits of time to shed some light on forgotten beliefs and times. The book is an homage to the divinity of the sacred female; hence if the topic would be remotely offensive to you, once again don’t bother, your loss.

For a flavour of the book, see here.

3) Twilight (Starting Mid-July)

Ok, Stephanie Meyer’s HIGHLY recommended best selling international phenomena! I didn’t like it! Seriously. Yeah ok, spare me the tomatoes and the booing. I went in expecting a masterpiece and what I got was childish, obvious, sappy and naive.

On a side note, I found it quite charming that even when in FICTION, a female author invents the perfect man (brilliant, gorgeous, strong, protective, sensitive, caring and deep), her mind recognizes the impossibility of it and feels the need to make him a vampire! So basically the perfect human man does not exist OR whenever something feels too good to be true.. than he probably is a blood sucking vampire.. i.e. has a flaws big enough to outweigh all perceived perfectness. Figures!!

4) Eat Pray Love (End of July)

Going through this book I was sure it was written by a woman I know, it was her style, her life, her fears.. strengths and disappointments. I actually went to the extent of asking her if this was another of her mystery literature ventures. Yet she denies the allegations, despite similarities, upon further consultation with Google, apparently this Elizabeth is legit.

Anyways, book is a light read, a dumped hurt woman’s journey of recovery, self discovery; search for God, earthly pleasures and balance! I am on the fence on liking it and being neutral about it. On one hand, I have tons of pages I’ve earmarked with quotes I liked. On the other, I can’t relate to the woman. She is a tad light and a tad simplistic.. plus doesn’t really act as if any of it was her fault. I don’t know. Not very useful; I realise that, but I do promise to follow up with a post of some of my fave quotes and commentary.

5) When Markets Collide (current reading)

Will give you a decent review when done. Went through hell to find a copy following last year’s Euromoney conference where every minister in Egypt managed to end up quoting this guy in their speech. He’s CV puts wanna-bes like me to shame. On the plus side, for the first time in a long time I actually have a practical role model.

6) The God of Small Things (also current readings, I read in overlap)

I bought this based solely on the fact that it won the Booker prize. Woman thinks in beautiful imagery. Yet is highly chaotic and quite difficult to follow. I like how she expresses emotions, her descriptive abilities are sensational and heart felt. Oh and it has been ages since a book has kept me running for my dictionary so often. Props to her on that! She has an impeccable ability of finding the best word for the sentence, which also happens to be the most complex possible word choice 🙂 Still early in the book, will give you more decent feedback when done.

So Gjoez et all, what did you end up reading over the summer?

Jibran

Mahdy has successfully put me in such a Jibran mood.

Here is the dosage I’ve decided to share with you today:

The House of Fortune

My wearied heart bade me farewell and left for the House of Fortune. As he reached that holy city which the soul had blessed and worshiped, he commenced wondering, for he could not find what he had always imagined would be there. The city was empty of power, money, and authority.

And my heart spoke to the daughter of Love saying, “Oh Love, where can I find Contentment? I heard that she had come here to join you.”

And the daughter of Love responded, “Contentment has already gone to preach her gospel in the city, where greed and corruption are paramount; we are not in need of her.”

Fortune craves not Contentment, for it is an earthly hope, and its desires are embraced by union with objects, while Contentment is naught but heartfelt.

The eternal soul is never contented; it ever seeks exaltation. Then my heart looked upon Life of Beauty and said: “Thou art all knowledge; enlighten me as to the mystery of Woman.” And he answered, “Oh human heart, woman is your own reflection, and whatever you are, she is; wherever you live, she lives; she is like religion if not interpreted by the ignorant, and like a moon, if not veiled with clouds, and like a breeze, if not poisoned with impurities.”

And my heart walked toward Knowledge, the daughter of Love and Beauty, and said, “Bestow upon me wisdom, that I might share it with the people.” And she responded, “Say not wisdom, but rather fortune, for real fortune comes not from outside, but begins in the Holy of Holies of life. Share of thyself with the people.”

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

When I started this book a while back (loong while, but it kept getting interrupted by other readings) I had promised Nerro a book review.

Overall I liked the book. Partially because of the simplicity of the underlying plot and partially for the beauty of the translation. I realize the book was not originally written in English, but it remains for the beauty of its construction, an homage to language.

The story covers the lives and interactions of four main characters and a dog 🙂 Each time resetting to tell you the same tale from the perspective of a different hero or heroine, painting the reality their shade of perception.

My only reservation is that the author himself obviously has strong political views, they at times felt imposed onto the book. Otherwise the book was very reflective of a cultured and diverse author. One with profound takes on philosophy, humanity, art and music and relationships.

I emerged with a lot of pencil markings of paragraphs I wanted to share with you:

Anyone whose goal is “something higher” must expect some day to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? Then why do we feel it even when the observation tower comes equipped with a sturdy handrail? No, vertigo is something other than the fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us whit tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which terrified, we defend ourselves.

Indeed, the only truly serious questions are ones that even a child can formulate. Only the most naive of questions are truly serious. They are the questions with no answers. A question with no answer is a barrier that cannot be breached. In other words, it is questions with no answers that set the limit of human possibilities, describe the boundaries of human existence.

Anyone who thinks that the Communist regimes of Central Europe are exclusively the work of criminals is overlooking a basic truth: the criminal regimes were made not by criminals but by enthusiasts convinced they had discovered the only road to paradise. They defended that road so valiantly that they were forced to execute many people. Later it became clear that there was no paradise, that the enthusiasts were therefore murderers.

The characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them all and equally horrified by them. Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented.

That last one, I couldn’t agree more. If you want a book with a lot of action to waste time and burn daylight reading, this is definitely NOT the book for you. If you want an excuse to think, experience Beethoven, art, politics, mid-century Europe and an innovative take on philosophy and humanity, I believe you will enjoy it.

Belated Book Review

I felt disadvantaged while reading or reviewing this book. I started reading it as a Marwa Rakha fan. A fan that had never seen her tv shows, heard her on the radio or read her articles. Yet a fan nevertheless. A fan of the human being, of the persona.

When you start out with that mindset you end up with two possible results, either unrealistically high expectations of the book which render you disappointed (see my take on A Thousand Splendid Suns) or unable to find fault with it, liking it by default.

Reading the book felt like watching a mini-documentary. The images of your life that flash before your eyes when you think your life might be ending. I did not get caught up in the individual stories/articles; rather was more touched by the progression. This woman whom I admire greatly, I read as she transformed into the woman she is today. I read as Marwa Rakha grew, evolved, overcame challenges, fell in and out of love, vented, learned, had her heart broken and herself broke some hearts and egos.

The book is a collection of stories/articles about herself and about the dating scene in Cairo. Think of it as a Cairene’s version of the Sex in the City episodes; up to the inclusion of a Mr. Big (if you’re a fan you’ll love the book). Marwa Rakha bravely (some might argue foolishly) tackled issues such as independence, moving out, relationships, her take on Egyptian men & the Egyptian society, sex, porn and horizontal relationships (I think she invented the term, but it works :)).

My heart went out to her as she talked about her relationship with her parents which at times she symbolized in the most beautiful of ways, I love the little story about her pet butterfly. At other times her cynicism left me smiling and laughing despite the underlying frustration of her disappointment in those men time and time again.

Her english is pristine and highly artistic as she utilizes metaphors, literary references and derivations. Whilst admitting that the Silence of the Lambs story freaked me out a bit, yet I found her musical chairs references, duck theory and rules of being a good girl entertaining.

For 210 pages I enjoyed the ride, the possibly fictional possibly auto-biographical hurt yet recovering woman’s take on love and life in Cairo. Then for 5 pages, she broke my heart. The book might have been light reading… and I’m one who never cares for book endings… yet she got to me. I felt like calling up the woman who has been nothing short of sensationally supportive and offering some support from this end. Only it is implied in these pages that she doesn’t need it, isn’t expecting it, that she is strong enough to persevere and that she will be fine. I seriously hope so.

Azazeel

Drawn by the controversy surrounding Dr. Youssef Zidane’s Novel; I read the book with the unusual title*. The book then went on to win this year’s Booker’s Prize.

The book is a tale of a Coptic monk’s journey from Upper Egypt to Alexandria and then Syria during a time of turmoil in Christianity. The self-christened “Hepa” journeys both physically and spiritually as he encounters both enlightenment and temptation. At times he’s resisted at other times yielded to both, realizing in some occasion that temptation and enlightenment could be one and the same, sides to the same coin.

I found the book’s pace to be slow at times and the plot started out quite mundane but became more and more intriguing as it approached the end. Hypatia fans will be both pleased and shocked by Zidane’s depiction of Alexandria at that time and of the woman herself, her achievements and her violent demise.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Zidane in person and can assure you he is nothing short of remarkably fascinating. True to his background and education he was an interesting conversationalist who could cite evidence to support his claims from holy books and literature across the ages in multiple languages. When asked about the title, he responded that religions since the dawn of time had offered versions of God’s or deities who represent the higher power and embody all that is good or righteous. With the rise of Judaism; man sought the other end of the spectrum, a higher entity which embodied all that is evil, for otherwise man himself would have had to bare responsibility for his evil actions, hence the birth of Azazeel.

Going back to basics

TRUE! – NERVOUS – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am! but why will you say that I am mad? The disease has sharpened my senses – not destroyed – not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all the things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily – how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

I studied this story back in middle school. I had bought the book at last year’s book fair in a moment of nostalgia. It had sat in my library since. This weekend I had an event where I knew I’d have a lot of time on my hands waiting for things to start. I picked a book randomly and it turned out to be writings of Poe. I love his insanity. I miss being that age and being able to devour books at leisure without the guilt I’m experiencing now about abandoning stuff I should be reading for work or academics.

Shalimar the Clown

Everywhere you went a few of the dead were studied and remembered; and these were the best of the dead, the least dead, living in the world’s memory. The less celebrated, less advantaged dead were content to be kept alive within a few loving (or even hating) breasts, even in a single human heart, within the frontiers of which they could laugh and chatter and make love and behave well and badly and go to Hitchcock movies and vacation in Spain and wear embarrassing dresses and enjoy gardening and hold controversial opinions and commit unforgivable crimes and tell their children they loved them more than life.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,

or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”

Those who frequent this blog will recall the length of time for which this book was “currently reading”. I have no plausible explanation for why it took that long to get through. It was not a smooth read and I started and completed several books in parallel.

It started a couple of years ago, when my favourite sales man at the Cairo book fair recommended The Kite Runner. The book to me was life altering, I fell in love with Hosseini’s writing style and the magnificence of the touching story. I laughed, I cried, I committed whole chunks of the book to memory and I learned and grew. Just by reading it. I raved about the book to family and friends and marketed it like I had a vested interest.

With baited breath I awaited his new book. Moreover his new book was a story about 3 generations of women in Afghanistan. The cover promised a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years – from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding. It was a story about women. It was a story about humanity.

I had unrealistically high expectations and thus was disappointed. I was disappointed by the pace of the book. His attention to detail and fussiness came at the expense of smooth sailing. The book was exciting in parts and completely and utterly boring in others. Unlike his first novel the characters in this book, with the exception of Laila and Mariam, were uni-dimensional. He invested a lot of energy into the depth and stories of the main two that everyone else became an accessory. Cliche good or cliche evil.

Meanwhile, should you persevere, the ending is absolutely brilliant. Albeit harbouring some elements of Egyptian cinema’s all’s-well-that-ends-well finales. Yet the writing itself was amazing. I am envious of his word choices and his ability to express himself. Also throughout the whole novel there are some interesting quotes.

Funnily enough, the book is quite the feminist story, with a general animosity towards most of the males in the novel. This is reflected in the dialogue and the life lessons that the older characters try to pass on to the younger ones.

“Let me tell you something. A man’s heart is a wretched, wretched thing, Mariam. It isn’t like a mother’s womb. It won’ bleed, it won’t stretch out to make room for you. ”

“You can be anything you want, Laila. I know this about you. And I also know that when this war is over, Afghanistan is going to need you as much as its men, maybe even more. Because a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated, Laila. No chance.”

– Holds equally true for Egypt, I couldn’t agree more.

“Mariam wished for so much in those final moments. Yet as she closed her eyes, it was not regret any longer but a sensation of abundant peace that washed over her. She thought of her entry into this world, the harami child of a lowly villager, an unintended thing, a pitiable, regrettable accident. A weed, And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother. A person of consequence at last. No. It was not so bad, Mariam thought, that she should die this way. Not so bad. THis was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings.”