Tag-Archive for ◊ entertaining book ◊

• Friday, March 28th, 2008

Samia Serageldin was born in the early fifties in Cairo, Egypt, the daughter of a wealthy landowner of a renowned Egyptian family. She married at twenty and went to England where she obtained an M.S. Degree in Politics from London’s school of Oriental and African Studies.

She emigrated with her family in 1980 to the U.S.A. and has lived since then in Michigan, Massachusetts, and North Carolina. She has two adult sons who live in two different continents from hers.

Samia Serageldin worked as a professor of French and Arabic language, an interpreter for an international company, a book columnist, a free-lance writer and as a public speaker on current affairs.

The Cairo House is Samia Serageldin’s first novel. It was first published in the USA in 2000, the UK publication followed a few years later in 2004. It’s semi-autobiographical, a way for the author to reconcile the present with the past. The book is about the changes and developments in Egypt during the decades following the 1952 Egyptian revolution.

Gigi the main character in the book relates her day-to-day life during the time of the four presidents who took power after king Faruk. President Naguib, then Nasser, followed by Sadat, and then Mubarak.

She starts her story in the good old days, the belle époque, of an Egyptian privileged wealthy, landowner family who went through hardship after president Nasser sequestrated their lands in the sixties. From then on, life will never be the same again neither for Gigi, her family, nor for Egypt.

Gihan (Gigi), the narrator and main character, is an introverted, complicated and tormented person. She hastily married a man who is a complete stranger to her, saying that “she was tired of waiting for life to begin.” She was young, inexperienced and believed innocently that life started with wedlock.

The expected happened, her married life was a failure. Her second marriage was not a great success either. Like most expatriates, she didn’t feel at home in the USA and she felt out of place in the new Egypt. She seemed to be helplessly lost until the end of the story, seeking a way out of her dilemma.

Despite that, it’s not easy to feel much compassion for Gihan, her character lacks some depth. The events and turmoil surrounding her life are described more elaborately, although some subjects could have been more developed.

The metaphors of the Chameleon for the constant readjustment between the two worlds, the East and the West, and the kaleidoscope for the change in fate, which are mentioned in several parts of the novel are, of essential importance to the author. It conveys what destiny is about. The slightest change in the kaleidoscope, like a small occurrence, can alter the route of one’s life and therefore make a substantial difference to one’s destiny.

The story of Gihan and her clan in The Cairo House reveals Egyptian culture, traditions, politics and unrest amongst the different classes in society under each new regime. The novel starts with a vivid and rich description of Egyptian society of the time, but as the author moves her character to the western world, the images are fading and are no longer of substance.

The Cairo House is an entertaining book to read. Written by an Egyptian who lived the various events that occurred in her country first hand, it’s valuable historically for the important Egyptian period of the first half of the twentieth century and the significant changes that followed whether in politics, culture, way of life or even the country’s infrastructure.

Samia Serageldin, in one of her interviews, says about The Cairo House : “I’ve been often asked why, since The Cairo House draws so heavily from my personal history, I did not simply write a memoir. It is often said that a memoir is fiction in disguise and a novel is fact masquerading as fiction. For me, at least, I could not have written as freely without the fig leaf of fiction…The great satisfaction of being read comes from taking others with you on that fascinating journey.”

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• Saturday, March 03rd, 2007

Barbara Cleverly has been a teacher in Cambridge and today lives in a medieval house in an English Suffolk village. She has been a teacher of French, English and Latin, but stopped working in order to dedicate herself to writing full-time.

Barbara Cleverly is the inventor of the Scotland Yard detective, Joe Sandilands, and his adventurous investigations in India.

“The Palace Tiger” is Barbara Cleverly’s fourth novel. The first was “The Last Kashmiri Rose” published in 2001. This was followed by “Ragtime In Simla” in 2002, and by “Damascene Blade” in 2003. Her fourth novel, “The Palace Tiger” was published in 2004, and her fifth was “The Bee’s Kiss” which first appeared in 2005.

Her annually published novels are mysteries solved by the clever British detective, Sandilands, a First World War hero.

Barbara Cleverly explains how she had the idea of writing a series of books all taking place in India. “The battered old tin trunk I found in the attic didn’t look inviting at first sight. Full of family bits and pieces, my husband said. You know, sepia postcards from the Pyrenees, funeral lists, old bank books…” “I opened it anyway. Out spilled more than two centuries of memories, the memories of a family whose exploits and achievements marched in time with the flowering of the British Empire, a family of soldiers, statesmen, architects, doctors and explorers, but my attention was caught by the photograph of a young boy.

Handsome even by today’s standards, his resemblance to my stepson, even down to the haircut, was extraordinary. “Ah, that’s Brigadier Harold Sandilands, my husband explained, when he was a schoolboy at Harrow. My great uncle spent a lot of time in India.”

“The Palace Tiger”, like Barbara Cleverly’s other four novels, is a Whodunit à la Agatha Christie. Joe Sandilands, a Scotland Yarder, finds himself compelled to unravel the mysterious deaths of the dying Maharajah’s three sons and heirs as well as to eliminate a man-eating tiger terrorizing the northern villages. The whole complicated plot takes place in Ranipur in India. The author doesn’t miss an opportunity to describe in detail and in a colourful way, 1920’s colonial India.

The Maharajah’s luxurious palaces, the harem’s quarter, their clothing, their day-to-day life, the death rituals. The beautiful gardens and lake, but most important the conspiracy between different people in the palace. Each character serves a purpose in the complicated plot.

This is an action thriller which keeps the reader in suspense until the end. A good, rich description also of Machiavellic ambitions and greedy characters. All together a very colourful, thrilling and entertaining book.