Tag-Archive for ◊ metaphor ◊

Author:
• Saturday, October 29th, 2011

Alaa El Aswany was born in Egypt in 1957, the only child of an ex aristocratic mother and a well known father from Aswan, in Upper Egypt. His father, Abbas, who received the Egyptian state award for literature in 1972, was a lawyer before becoming a novelist.

Alaa Al Aswany studied in a French private school in Cairo, Le Lycée Français du Caire, which was followed by a Cairo University dentistry degree in 1980 and a Masters degree in 1985 from the University of Illinois in Chicago, where he spent 17 years before returning to live in Egypt. Today he still lives in Cairo with his second wife and three children.

Alaa El Aswany is one of the founding members of the political democratic opposition movement, Kefaya (Enough), meaning enough of president Mubarak’s undemocratic, oppressive regime and its corruption. The movement was founded in 2004.

In 2010 El Aswany was named one of the 500 most influential Muslims for arts and culture. He was also nominated for the prestigious 2010 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for his novel Chicago, published in 2007.

Born Muslim, El Aswany is a secular and free thinker. He has written many articles for Egyptian newspapers on political issues, social matters and literature.

Alaa El Aswany had his dental clinic in the Yacoubian building, in the centre of Cairo, but departed 15 years before writing his fictitious novel about the building. He still practises dentistry twice a week in his clinic in the Garden City district of Cairo, in order to stay in touch with people and have discussions with them, which, he says, is very important to him and helps in his writing since he treats patients as a professional dentist but writes about them as a novelist.

The Yacoubian building was first published by a small, private publisher in Cairo in 2002, after being rejected three times by the Egyptian Book Organisation, the omnipotent state-run publishers controlled by president Mubarak’s regime, because of its perceived controversial content.

The novel was translated into 27 languages and became a best seller in the Arab world. In 2006 it was made into a film with the biggest budget ever for an Egyptian film and in 2007 was made into a television series.

The Yacoubian building, constructed in 1934 in downtown Cairo by the Armenian millionaire Hagop Yacoubian, was an architectural paragon of its time. Unfortunately, after years of neglect and lack of renovation, the condition of the building declined.

It is early 1990 when the story begins. The author describes the everyday life of the people who live in the building. Whether these tenants are wealthy, nouveau-riche or poor, they all share the same struggle to survive and the suffering and hardship they are enduring at the hands of the current Egyptian regime.

Most of them have in common the same obsession for sex and decadence, just like the deteriorating building they live or work in, the corrupted leader they have and the iniquitous government that governs them. The run-down building is a metaphor for the state of the country.

There is the well-to-do, 65-year old, retired Francophile engineer, Zaki Bey Dessouki, the self confessed, “scientist of women” who belongs to the aristocracy of a bygone era, the good old days which his sister Dawlat feels very dissatisfied and angry to have lost and consequently gone with it her two children who emigrated. She becomes bitter and takes it all out on her only brother.

Then there is the rich, middle aged, homosexual, successful newspaper editor, Hatim Rasheed, who couldn’t control his sexual urges for the young, illiterate, Abd Rabo, an upper Egyptian peasant, and police recruit, who will prove to be fatal for him.

And there’s another character, the ambitious nouveau-riche countryman, the old Hagg Mohamed Azzam, who wants to be part of the Egyptian parliament in order to gain power and prestige, even if he has to pay a huge bribe. He discovers that he has uncontrollable sexual needs that his old wife could no longer satisfy and has to marry a second wife, the young Soad who becomes his victim.

Also not forgetting the dirty old, chain of boutiques owner, the rich, Talal Chanane and his young lady workers and sex sufferers, Fifi and Boussaïna, nor the corrupted Malak, who earns his living not only as a shirtmaker but also in the commerce of currencies, alcohol, contraband and anything that brings in money, including blackmail.

There is also the young, Taha El Shazli, the son of the building’s caretaker. He is a bright student who’s dream is to join the police academy and marry his childhood girlfriend and neighbour, Boussaïna. His dream is shattered when he is refused entrance to the police academy because of his father’s profession. Saddened and dismayed after realising that money and contacts in the right place count for more than good grades and perseverance, he becomes bitter and cynical and consequently loses Boussaïna for good. He enrolls at Cairo university and, through one of the students, joins a militant Islamic group and dies a martyr in an organised assault on a senior prison officer who was behind his torture and humiliation while he was jailed. With nothing to live for, and therefore nothing to lose, he died more out of revenge, deceit and loss of hope in the whole Egyptian system than for his Islamic belief.

A contrasting array of characters from dissimilar backgrounds, each one with a different life-style and morals, but all of them seeking a better life. They all inhabit the same building without ever encountering one another, each living in his own world, preoccupied with his own problems.

The characters and the seedy building, which is undoubtedly the main focus of the story, as the main title implies and which still exists in the centre of Cairo, are well developed and quite realistic.

The novel conveys a bleak picture of a contemporary Egypt that lost its bearings, but the ending gives a shy ray of hope for the future. A very interesting, good novel if it was not for the several explicit sex passages which belittle the novel’s many serious themes.

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Author:
• Sunday, February 03rd, 2008

Paul Scott was born in the north London suburb of Southgate in 1920, from a Yorkshire commercial artist father and a South London mother Frances Mark, a former shop clerk. He was the younger of two sons.

Paul Scott was educated in Winchmore Hill Collegiate, a private school where his education was abruptly ended at the age of 16 due to his father’s business being in financial difficulty. He decided to make a career in accountancy.

Paul Scott was conscripted to the army in 1940, and in 1941 was married in Torquay to Nancy Edith Avery called Penny. He was sent to India in 1943 as an officer cadet and ended the war as captain in the Indian Army Service Corps.

After completing his duty in India, he went back to live in London with his family. His two daughters, Carol and Sally were born in 1947 and 1948.

In 1950 Paul Scott became a director while working for the literary agent Pearn Pollinger and Higham and from 1960 onwards he dedicated himself full time to writing. His books were not recognised until quite late and he died in 1978 in hospital in London from colon cancer.

Paul Scott wrote several novels:
Johnnie Sahib in 1952.
The Alien Sky in 1953.
A Male Child in 1956.
Mark of The Warrior in 1958.
Chinese Love Pavilion in 1960.
Birds of Paradise in 1962.
The Bender in 1963.
The Corrida at San Feliu in 1964.
The Raj Quartet:
1. The Jewel in the Crown in 1966.
2. The Day of the Scorpion in 1968.
3. The Towers of Silence in 1971.
4. A Division of the Spoils in 1974.

The Raj Quartet was made into a television series under the name of “The Jewel In The Crown”.

Staying On in 1977 won the Booker Prize award and was made into a film in 1979 by Granada television. He also wrote reviews for The Times, the Times Literary Supplement, the New Statesman, and Country Life.

In 1976 and 1977 he was “visiting professor” at University of Tulsa in Oklahoma U.S.A.

Staying On is a sequel to The Raj Quartet set in the Anglo-Indian frame several years after India gained its independence in 1947.

The two main characters are Tusker and Lucy Smalley, a retired ageing British couple, mentioned briefly in The Raj Quartet novels. Married for forty years and living an uncommunicative marriage, they decide to Stay On in a small bungalow in the hills of Pankot, a small town in India. Despite being deprived of their colonial status and despite the changing times in India and the seediness of the place, they opt to stay rather than return home to England due to financial need. “I knew the pension would go further in India than in England” Tusker says to his wife.

The novel is set in 1972. It narrates the present and the past with funny, sometimes sad and sometimes touching style, the poignant silent loyalty and the resentful trust and reliance between the ageing couple (Tusker and Lucy).

The story starts with Tusker’s death. All the events in the book are a flashback till the end when the author brings back Tusker’s death in order to re-knot the beginning with the end.

Throughout the book Tusker is painted as a selfish, inconsiderate, grumpy character, but by the end and before his death, he reveals his soft, hidden, endearing side, which makes his departing deeply moving.

Nothing much appears to happen in the book, but the story is still engrossing due to the vivid description of the characters and the bittersweet subject.

Tusker and Lucy have seen better days during the time of the Raj, but those days are over and now they have to lead a modest life, “hang on”, swallow their pride, and endure the grotesque Mrs Bhoolabhoy’s bad temper. “ ‘Oh, Mrs Bhoolabhoy, Lucy began, we’re expecting a guest on Wednesday. I wonder if you’d kindly book a room-‘ ‘I have already told Colonel Smalley I can’t be bothered with that… I have other things to deal with. All I want to know is about the shears.’ ‘Shears?’ ‘Shears. Shears. Shears!’ Mrs Bhoolabhoy raised her arms and made motions. Snick-snick. Shears!’ she shouted… I will not have my property taken off the premises…She waddled away, leaving behind her a trail of sandalwood perfume which,to Lucy, was like the pungent smell of her own smouldering outraged dignity.”

Ibrahim, the Smalley’s manservant is etched in a funny light hearted way. His conversation with the mali gardener, Joseph, is hilarious : “’Ibrahim,’ Joseph said,’what happens if you are pushed by both Sahib and Memsahib ? ‘Given push, not pushed. Get idiom right.’ ‘what happens if you are given push by Sahib and Memsahib at one and the same time?’ Ibrahim looked at him thoughtfully. He said.’Suddenly you are a philosopher as well as a gardener? You are entering realm of metaphysics ? Joseph Einstein is it ? Versed in the theory of time and relativity? Haven’t I just made it plain that Sahib and Memsahib are always at logger-heads and that sometimes they do not even know what time of day it is, even in Pankot ?”

Paul Scott chose India as a rich and colourful frame work for his books, because since the time he was posted there, he fell in love with the country and wanted to convey his enthusiasm to English people, in particular for those who heard about this vast country but never visited it nor interested themselves in discovering its varied cultures.

In 1972 referring to his whole career to date, Paul Scott told his audience during his British council tour of India : “My proper answer to the question,’why do you, as a modern English novelist of serious pretensions, bother to write about the time-expired subject of the British Raj?’ is, must be, if my novels are novels at all, because the last days of the British Raj are the metaphor I have presently chosen to illustrate my view of life.”

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