Tag-Archive for ◊ explicit sex passages ◊

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:
• Friday, March 27th, 2009

Anita Amirrezvani was born in Teheran, Iran in 1961 and raised in San Francisco by her mother, after her parents separated when she was two years old. She began going back to Teheran at the age of 13, several times afterwards, to spend time with her father and her Iranian family. During the nine years spent writing her first novel, The Blood of Flowers, she visited Isfahan three times to study the settings described in her novel on location.

She read many books about 17th century Iran under the reign of Shah Abbas and also spent time informing herself about art during this period; like paintings, architecture, textiles and the art and techniques of carpet making.

Amirrezvani worked as an art journalist and a dance critic in San Francisco for ten years.

The Blood of Flowers was published in 2007. It was short-listed for the 2008 Boeke Prize and long-listed for the 2008 Orange Prize for Fiction.

The Blood of Flowers, set in 1620 Isfahan, is a tale of endurance that led to success. Each detail in the novel is meticulously described. The colours are vivid, the flavours are mouth-watering and the fragrances are powerful as much as the emotions.

In order to enhance her fairy tale, the author has chosen an exotic background for her story about the craftsmanship of carpet making, promoted by Shah Abbas the Great, as a fine art. Like Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, it’s a detailed description about how miniature drawing in the late sixteen century Turkey under the reign of Ottoman Sultan Murat III was also a very refined art.

Amirrezvani and Pamuk have both chosen the colour “red” to describe on one side, the colour used by the artists to enhance their work – the blood of flowers – that is used for dying the wool, and on the other side to describe the colour of blood. In Amirrezvani’s case it refers to the precious virginity while in Pamuk’s case it refers to the human incessant bloodshed.

Amirrezvani reveals in her novel that she is clearly influenced by folk tales, an old Iranian tradition. The seven tales woven into the main story, is a homage to the traditional folk storytellers throughout the ages. Another tribute in the novel is given to the anonymous carpet artisans, who will always remain unknown and whose beautiful work has survived many centuries and who are portrayed by the unnamed narrator.

The story is about a painful striving of an innocent immature, ambitious, strong-headed young girl through her journey to the harsh world of adulthood and through her many attempts and her final victory. She is faced with a dilemma; either to forsake her dignity and lead a degrading life of servitude, under her weak-willed uncle’s and his wicked authoritarian wife’s roof, or take the big risk of fighting for a better independent tomorrow, for herself and her mother.

The narrator discovers that a very thin thread exists between the strong will, love and happiness. She is portrayed as an early determined, strong-headed feminist, quite precocious for her time, despite the male dominated society she lives in.

With time and experience the narrator begins to understand her own worth and refuses to live with her “temporary husband” Fereydoon. It’s an unsettled life where she has to keep his interest by being constantly inventive during their night frolics in order for him to keep renewing their marriage contract – called the “Sigheh” – every three months. The explicit sex passages described in detail by the author are unnecessary to the plot.

Instead of being like the submissive Sheherazad in the tale of One Thousand and One Nights and her endeavour to keep the king’s keen interest in her tales in order to escape her death sentence, the narrator chooses instead to face poverty and starvation, in the hope of reaching her target by becoming one of the finest carpet makers of her time.

The description of the beautiful, painstakingly crafted carpets produced by the narrator and her women artisans, contrasts with their own abject poverty and suffering.

A good and rich insight of the old Iranian history and culture. Skillfully written with many themes that are still valid in today’s world.

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