Tag-Archive for ◊ young lady ◊

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:
• Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Nadine Gordimer was born in 1923, into a white privileged middle-class family, in the small mining town of Springs Transvaal, outside Johannesburg, in South Africa. Both her parents were immigrants, her father, a Latvian jeweller, and her mother, from British descent.

Gordimer went to a convent school for her education. She was often made to stay at home, due to her mother’s belief that she had a weak heart. A good opportunity for Gordimer to start writing from the age of nine. Her first story “Come Again Tomorrow” was published when she was fourteen years old, in the children’s section of the Johannesburg Sunday newspaper Forum.

By the time she was twenty, she had had many stories published in local magazines. The New Yorker has been publishing her articles since then.

In 1945 Nadine Gordimer studied for a year at the university of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. She was exposed for the first time to the social and political atmosphere of South Africa, which was to be her life time struggle.

She obtained honorary degrees in the United States, from Yale, Harvard, Columbia, New School for Social Research, also from Leuven University in Belgium, and from the university of York and the university of Oxford and Cambridge in England, and from Cape Town and Witwatersrand universities in South Africa.

She was made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France and is the vice president of International Pen and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Litterature.
In 1998 she rejected the candidacy for the Orange Award, because it was only for women writers.

She was the first South African and the seventh woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Litterature in 1991. She also won the 1974 Booker Prize. During the 1960s and 1970s she taught in various United States universities.

Nadine Gordimer has written fiction, non-fiction, screenplay and short stories.
“The Soft Voice of the Serpent”, a collection of short stories, published in 1952, was Gordimer’s first book. “The Lying Days” her second novel.

Nadine Gordimer has a daughter from her first marriage and a son, Hugo Cassirer, who is a film maker, from her second marriage. She has been living in Johannesburg since 1948.

Starting from an early age, Nadine Gordimer has been concerned about the segregation in South African society due to the racist Apartheid regime, which she very vehemently opposed, despite growing in a society that considered it normal. She never spared any effort campaigning against racism in South Africa. She was the voice of the oppressed non-white through her writing. She is what we might call, a moral conscience of her country.

In The Pickup, Gordimer sets out what might look like a simple love story, but in fact the novel deals with many problems. Julie Summers a 29-year old white South African English young lady, who works for a media company, from a wealthy separated parents that she doesn’t care for much, falls in love with a dark skinned garage mechanic, an illegal Arab immigrant in south Africa who belongs to a humble background and is threatened with deportation. The intrigue starts to get complicated as the story progresses.

Throughout the novel we go through the trials and tribulations of the two lovers in order to reach a living compromise. They are both rejecting the values that they grew up with. Julie having distanced herself earlier on from her “bourgeois” background in South Africa, by living in very small modest accommodation, spends her free time with a liberal multiracial group called “The Table” at the L.A. café and drives a second hand car.

Faithful to her bohemian belief, she wants to live the simple life of her husband Ibrahim’s family in the arid desert despite the heat, the sand storm, the food, the primitive house and the language. She is happy to remain there and teach the English language to the natives. Ibrahim with his degree in economics is dreaming of leading the opulent an successful of Julie’s father, somewhere abroad, escaping from his harsh family life.

While Julie despises her father’s privileged lifestyle, Ibrahim is embarrassed by his family’s rudimentary way of life. Julie and Ibrahim have no common background. They are two opposites that attract.

The novel is divided in two parts. The South African part with the problem of racism, class and arbitrary bureaucracy, and the Arabian unnamed country part with the problem of unemployment and a bleak future for young people. Like the division between the two main characters.

Julie discovers in her husband’s family all the values she was missing in her own country and amongst her family. Such as solidarity between the members of the same family, the generosity, the spirituality, and the endless desert that she fell in love with, for her it represented the ultimate freedom which she was seeking.

As for Ibrahim, being in his own country was as good as being in prison, for him freedom was abroad where he could fulfill his dream. That’s why he accepts to emigrate to the United States without any hesitation, even if Julie refuses to accompany him.

Julie and Ibrahim remain faithful to their own selves until the end, even if they have to sacrifice their love for each other. But is it really a sacrifice or did they use each other as a means to reach what they were aspiring to?

———–
The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer was discussed by the members of the Book Club of the United Nations Womens’ Guild on Friday, 1st December 2006.