Tag-Archive for ◊ morals ◊

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, March 27th, 2011

Francesca Marciano was born and grew up in Rome, Italy in 1955. Her grandfather was a well-known Italian writer and winner of literary awards. Since her childhood Francesca was dreaming of becoming a writer like her grandfather but she gave up her university studies and went to New York to have a six-month film course and ended up staying six years.

She worked as a producer/director for documentaries for the Italian television before she found out that her real vocation was film-making. She also acted in some films and became a writer.

Her first holiday trip to Zanzibar made her fall in love with Africa. Since then, she spends her time between Rome and Kenya, where she has a residence.

Francesca Marciano has written three novels to date :
The End Of Manners in 2009
Casa Rossa in 2003
Rules Of The Wild in 1998

The beautiful young Italian, Esme, is the main character and the passionate, self-observing narrator of Rules Of The Wild. The story is set in modern Kenya and relates the every day life of western expatriates who live a superficial, decadent, purposeless existence in a closed circle community. They get drunk, consume drugs and are devoid of morals. They live in Kenya and yet are completely cut off from the native culture of the place they call home but don’t seem to care. They don’t want to leave because they are captured by the picturesque beauty of the country and because of all the privileges and freedom they have. They don’t contribute to the Kenyan life, they don’t even make African friends, they only have cheap African labourers. The colonial attitude still prevails among the white society in Africa.

The expatriates are aware without being deterred, that they will never belong to Kenya nor be part of it despite falling in love with it. Just like Esme who surmounts her torn feelings towards her two lovers, Adam and Hunter, knowing well that she will never “belong” to either of them.

Esme is first attracted to Adam, the gentle, handsomely rugged, safari leader, a second generation Scot, who is captivated by the fascinating landscape and wild nature and would like to transmit this passion to Esme.

While living with Adam she is charmed by the conceited British war correspondent, Hunter, who after reporting the Somalian and Rwandan genocides becomes cynical about the harshness and injustice in these breathtaking, unspoilt East African countries and transmits the horror of what he has witnessed to Esme, through his copious accounts.

After much wavering between her two very dissimilar lovers, after much suffering and introspection, Esme discovers that her passion lies elsewhere. It lies in the miracle generated everyday by the swooping of birds over the still water, the movement of the clouds, the pink and purple sunrise and the stunningly dramatic orange sunset. Every day this magnificent, heavenly display looks as if perceived for the first time by the observer.

Esme discovers that she feels reborn and free by living so close to such enthralling virgin landscape which is a constant wonder, because she senses that she is part of it. She realises that she is in love with Africa more than anything or anybody. At last, after her wearying quest, she attains her flawless, “elsewhere” and extirpates herself from the past in order to live in harmony and self-abnegation with her surroundings.

Unfortunately, this striking paradisaical setting is heavily obscured by the sad crude reality of how the white Westerners still sustain the colonialist mentality in the African countries and by the rape, pillages and blood baths taking place in the neighbouring Rwanda and Somalia. A dark side of human nature juxtaposed to the beautiful images of an untamed luxuriant African panorama.

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