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Book Reviews

NASHER'S Review of "Le Faucon"

NASHER’S Review of “Le Faucon”

Author: Gilbert Sinoué

Pages: 280 pages

Publishing house: Al-Kamel Verlag

The figure of the UAE’s founder, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, may God rest his soul in peace, has always been inspiring for many writers, poets and authors, from within and outside the Arab world. Hundreds of books focusing on different aspects of his biography were released, recording his glorious deeds, values ​​and principles, including his love for people, his concern for the child and the family, his pursuit of unity and the development of his community, even his wisdom, vision, confidence in his people and his belief in the future of his homeland.

Yet, the Egyptian-born French writer, Gilbert Sinoué, had the lead in producing the first literary work of fiction to deal with the biography of Sheikh Zayed, may God rest his soul, through his book “Le Faucon”, which was published in mid-2020 in French by “Gallimard”, the leading French publishing house. Recently, Al-Kamel Verlag in Beirut and Baghdad released its Arabic edition, translated by Saleh Al-Ashmar, the well-known Lebanese writer and translator.

The book celebrates the personality of Sheikh Zayed the son, father, brother, ruler and poet, by shedding light on many situations, highlighting his presence in the lives of many international personalities, including the British traveler Wilfred Thesiger, the Egyptian-born engineer Abdel Rahman Makhlouf, and the British writer Susan Hilliard.

The “Le Faucon novel sheds light on the most prominent milestones and figures in the history of the UAE, before its establishment, and deals with Sheikh Zayed’s relationship with each of them, especially his brother Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the 11th ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1928 to 1966. It also highlights the most prominent development projects in Abu Dhabi and Al-Ain, as well as Sheikh Zayed’s travels to Britain, Pakistan, and India. The book also deals with the emergence of the UAE, and the subsequent events and challenges that the late managed to overcome all with his visionary wisdom, to place his country in the ranks of the most stable, progressive and prosperous countries in the world.

 

NASHER'S Review of "Over The Republican Bridge"

Nasher’s Review of “Over The Republican Bridge”

Author: Shahad Al Rawi

Publishing house: Dar Al Hikma, London

The young Iraqi author, Shahad Al Rawi returns with her second book ‘Over The Republican Bridge’ and after the success that her debut novel ‘The Baghdad Clock’ achieved, many readers were wondering what will Al Rawi next book be about and how different it will be.

In ‘Over The Republican Bridge’ the reader is invited to witness how the 2003 American invasion of Iraq and prior events impacts not just one generation but three; the grandparents, the parents, and children, and how one location, or rather the Republican Bridge is the place that plays a major part in one family over the decades. The novel begins with the bridge and ends with it, and just as it represents hope and change, it is also a source of danger and despair. Thinking about the bridge and its symbolic meaning within the novel, one comes to the realisation that just as ‘bridges’ are the way we cross over the river from onside to another without much thought to what awaits us, the bridge in Al Rawi’s novel is the deciding factor in every character’s fate, it is the deciding factor between new and old, life and death.

It is on the Republic Bridge that the protagonist recalls how the American Tanks were crossing into the heart of Baghdad, signaling the end of Iraq that everyone knew and the start of the unknown journey that many people had to take. Like most people in Iraq, the protagonist and her family leave Iraq into an unknown neighbouring country where they aim to start a new life, only to lose their mother to a deadly illness less than a month later. It is then that the reader is again struck by the use of symbolism, whether it is intended or not, the loss of the mother figure is the loss of one’s home country, loss of security, and the loss of belonging. This is demonstrated through the novel’s nameless protagonist, who throughout the book has no clear sense of belonging, not with her sister, father, cousin, or friends. Even when she tries to fall in love, it is a half-hearted attempt, which confirms the point that she has no sense of belonging and by finding a romantic interest, she assumed that will be her focal point after all don’t we all need something or someone that we call home?

In ‘Over The Republic Bridge’ the theme of escapement and longing for the past are evident at every stage of the novel, even before the family’s departure of Iraq there is a sense of longing to the past by the mother when she talks about her school, and it is clear that people often look back to the past with a romanticised view yet in our protagonist case, even the good times are marred with sorrow such as the death of her uncle during the first war that Iraq endured in the 80s.

If you have been following the work of Al Rawi, you would have noticed that there is a sense of maturity in ‘Over The Republic Bridge’ in her writing in the way that the characters are all given space to form a bond with the readers, they are all multi-dimensional with flaws and attractive qualities; essentially they are humanised by their contradictory qualities, no one is perfect, and that is the aspect of Al Rawi’s characters that made them memorable to readers. The novel’s ending is another sign of Al Rawi’s progression and maturity as a writer, it is daring and different which might leave some readers disappointed at the unexpected ending but for others, it is a fitting and realistic end for a troubled community such as Iraqis with their long-suffering history and any other end would have just been unacceptable and unrelatable.

Regardless of your nationality or background, ‘Over The Republic Bridge’ is a good read for anyone who has experienced loss in its various nature, it is a journey of acceptance and on this journey, you will meet many characters that shape your thoughts and outlook on life. We at Nasher have given it a rating of 3/5.

 

 

 

Sisters of the War by Rania Abouzeid – Book Review

Nasher’s Review of “Sisters of the War”

Author: Rania Abouzeid

Since the revolution-turned-civil war in Syria began in 2011, over 500,000 civilians have been killed and more than 12 million Syrians have been displaced, it’s a conflict that is beyond the understanding of adults and has divided people, yet it has been documented for teenagers to learn about Syria’s conflict. Sisters of the War by Rania Abouzeid attempts to bring the complex conflict into the Young Adults literature, as the book follows two real families on different sides of the political divide who end up in similar circumstances.

Through the stories of Ruha and Alaa and Hanin and Jawa, Abouzeid presents a clear-eyed and page-turning account of the complex conditions in Syria leading to the onset of the harrowing conflict.

Eight-year-old Hanin is at first oblivious to the conflict. Her father is certain that the early small protests will be squashed by the Syrian regime. Her family, like that of President Bashar Hafez al-Assad, belongs to the country’s Alawite religious minority, whose members support the government and hold military and security power. Nine-year-old Ruha’s acute awareness of the struggle for justice in Syria begins with a raid on her home during the peaceful uprising in 2011. Subsequently, her town gets shelled and school is no longer safe. Her community is Sunni Muslim, like the country’s majority. Lebanese Australian journalist Abouzeid illustrates the complexity of the Syrian conflict over six years while reporting on and quoting the two families. Both girls’ families suffered in unspeakable ways due to the conflict. Their stories, juxtaposed in alternating chapters, focus heavily on their identities.

While presenting powerful true stories of survival, the book could leave a distorted impression of the Syrian conflict or a rather difficult retelling of a very complicated issue.

Rania Abouzeid, one of the foremost journalists on the topic, follows two pairs of sisters from opposite sides of the conflict to give readers a first hand glimpse of the turmoil and devastation this strife has wrought, yet the language and description of events are not that of a child, in fact reading through the book felt at times as one is reading a news report or a newspaper article. Abouzeid is an award winning journalist yet not many can make the jump from journalism to being an author, it’s a brave and an admirable step by Abouzeid to try and teach teenagers about political conflicts and division, they are after all the future generation who can play a part in correcting the wrongs of our present time, but is the generation of snapchat and tiktok going to be reading ‘Sisters of the War’? Possibly yes, if it is been set by their school or given as a gift, would they be engaged by it and read to the end? Sadly no, and that is because of the style it is written in, it’s a long detailed report of attacks and description of political groups, something that would not grip young readers, they need characters that they could identify with, they need stories that involves them and keeps them wanting to turn the page of the book to read more.

There were glimpses of things that did encourage the reader to keep going with the book, such as  Ruha and her sister Alaa withstanding the constant attacks by the Syrian government in rebel-held territory, while Hanin and Jawa try to carry on as normal in the police state of regime-held Syria. Young readers may well see themselves as Ruha and Hanin, but the characters were not given enough space in the book, though they are the focus of it. The girls grow up in a world where nightly bombings are routine and shrapnel counts as toys. They bear witness to arrests, killings, demolished homes, and further atrocities most adults could not even imagine. Still, war does not dampen their sense of hope.

‘Sisters of the War’ is an important but difficult read for teenagers, it is classified as Young adult non-fiction but it could have been better had it been less ‘reporting’ and more of story telling, young people engage far more in narration of tales that they get emotionally invested in rather than newspaper reports that are often of a cold and matter of fact nature, for that reason we will give the book two stars out of five.  ‘Sisters of the War’ was published in September 2020 by Scholastic Focus.

 

 

 

NASHER'S Review of "Confessions of a Curious Bookseller"

Nasher’s Review of “Confessions of a Curious Bookseller”

Author: Elizabeth Green

Pages: 483 pages

Publishing house:  Lake Union Publishing

Publishing date:  January 1, 2021

Bookshops, cats, and secret confessions — what could possibly go wrong!

Confessions of a Curious Bookseller by Elizabeth Green is a story of 50 something-year-old Fawn, a bookshop owner and a cat lover, who tries to save her business from a new bookshop that opened just around the corner.

It is written in the forms of e-mail correspondence, online comments, and a little bit of Fawn’s journaling. A modern epistolary form.

Everything about this book, from title and cover to the overview, grabs the reader’s attention and almost calls out to be read.

Without question, Fawn Birchill knows that her used bookstore is the heart of West Philadelphia, a cornerstone of culture for a community that, for the past twenty years, has found the quirkiness absolutely charming. When an amicable young indie bookseller invades her block, Fawn is convinced that his cushy couches, impressive selection, coffee bar, and knowledgeable staff are a neighbourhood blight. Misguided yet blindly resilient, Fawn readies for battle.

But as she wages her war, Fawn is forced to reflect on a few unavoidable truths: the tribulations of online dating, a strained relationship with her family, and a devoted if not always law-abiding intern–not to mention what to do about a pen pal with whom she hasn’t been entirely honest and the litany of repairs her aging store requires.

Through emails, journal entries, combative online reviews, texts, and tweets, Fawn plans her next move. Now it’s time for her to dig deep and use every trick at her disposal if she’s to reclaim her beloved business–and her life.

The book can not be claimed as a life changing text but it is certainly a light and refreshing read – a much needed distraction from our current climate – while Confessions of a Curious Bookseller will entertain you and make you laugh, its an easy read without complications or difficult plots; the perfect medicine for January blues. Plus the easy format of narration, immediately strikes an engagement with the reader and encourages one to keep on turning the page, and despite the fact that we mostly see events from Fawn’s perspective but others are given a voice too, such as her rival, Mark and her mother, sister, penpal and even her employers. We can’t fully engage with most of the characters due to their short correspondence but the reader does grow to semi-like Fawn and her peculiar ways. In fact as the book progresses we begin to understand Fawn’s peculiar way and appreciate her insecurities that stems from her childhood and the way her father was never open in his feelings towards her.

The book does not fully live up to its title or even book cover but we would certainly recommend Confessions of a Curious Bookseller as a holiday read or a book to pick up that will just offer you a much-needed relief. We will give the book a rating of 3 out of 5, because although it is an enjoyable read its not a novel that will leave a mark on you nor is it likely to be put forward to any literary award.

Confessions of a Curious Bookseller is Elizabeth Green debut novel, she has graduated from the University of the Arts with a BFA in theatre arts and lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and two cats.

Nasher's Review of "The Shroud Maker "

Nasher’s Review of “The Shroud Maker “

Author: Ahmed Masoud

Publishing house: Oberon Books

“The Shroud Maker” play by author and director Ahmed Masoud tells the story of an 84-year-old woman who sells shrouds for the dead in order to survive. It’s a black comedy on the current situation, trying to highlight the humanity of the people, the sense of humour, and the great instinct of survival that a lot of people around the world have.

The protagonist, Hajja Souad grew up as the adopted daughter of the British high commissioner’s wife, Lady Cunningham. After the Nakba of 1948, she was left alone in the big mansion. As she managed to escape, she found an infant on the side of the Hebron road whom she adopts as her son.

She then moves to the West Bank and becomes a refugee until the October war when she finds herself again forced to flee to Gaza with her son. Elian, her son, then gets married and has a son. Elian gets killed in the first Intifada while Israeli soldiers arrest his wife.

Her Grandson, Ghassan, runs away to the other side of the fence and goes to live with an Arab Druze family who shelter him and later gets him to grow up as an Israeli. He joins the army and leads an incursion on Shujaia to destroy the tunnels, where Hajja Souad is based.

It is a monologue play where all the characters are played by one character, which is quite a gamble as it is a daring and bold decision is to play on the strong Arabic tradition of storytelling; it is the same as having a Hakawati (storyteller on stage) who takes the audience on a journey using mostly text but also some props and a lot of sound effects to transport them to an imaginative place.

A Palestinian from Gaza, Masoud came to the UK in 2002 to complete his postgraduate studies in English literature. During this period he wrote his first novel “Vanished – They Mysterious Disappearance of Mustafa Ouda”. In 2005, he started the Al Zaytouna Dance Theatre where he wrote and directed many dance productions including an adaptation of Ghassan Kanafani’s famous novel “Returning to Haifa”. But it was during the war on Gaza in July 2014, that the idea of “The Shroud Maker” was born.

Although the character of Hajja Souad is based on a real person but “the story is very different,” according to Masoud, and that it is “dark enough to provide both comedy and deep trauma”.

There is a mixture of comical yet painful words that brings a unique balance of heartache and laughter to the dark satire of Masoud’s script, and the readers are left with tears in their eyes even as they try to laugh grimly to Hajja’s no-nonsense attitude.

The readers connect with Souad, who is portrayed as a “real human being” with flaws as she shrewdly profits from people’s misery by overcharging people for shrouds.

“Well, what’s the alternative? Tell ’em the truth? “That’ll be ten shekels, madam. That’s right, ten shekels, I know, ever so cheap, isn’t it? Well, that’s ‘cos it’s made of polyester, yes, five shekels a roll from Yazji’s Superstore, yes, ‘fraid so, ‘ cos there’s no muslin left. All stocks exhausted, demand being so high, you know. Well, yes, if I’d known in advance I could have ordered extra supplies from the tunnel traders, but on this occasion, I’m afraid the Israelis neglected to inform me of their plans,” she tells the audience.

This mixture of comical yet painful words bring a unique balance of heartache and laughter to the dark satire of Masoud’s script, and the audience is left with tears in their eyes even as they try to laugh at Souad’s attitude

As her son, Elian grows, he married and has children of his own. Living under occupation they too suffer the effects of the First Intifada and their children are forced to run away for safety, a life that leads them to join the Israeli army and come back to Gaza to fight the Palestinians.

But even with the harsh truth of the attacks by Israeli soldiers on Palestinians in Gaza, it is not lost on viewers that all the misery helps Souad maintain her business, “kill everyone in this town and I will make shrouds for them all”, she tells the soldier. “I’ll give you 10 percent.”