Category Archives: Egyptian fiction

Teaser Tuesday – 22th August, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Death Shall Come: A Country House Murder Mystery – Book 4 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

43% We made our way quickly back to the drawing room, keeping a watchful eye on evey closed door and sudden side turning. The heavy hush seemed to swallow up the sound of our footsteps. It felt like walking through the depths of a forest at midnight while some predator watched from the darkest part of the woods. There was no walking mummy. I knew that, I just wasn’t sure I believed it.

BLURB: Death shall come on swift wings to whoever desecrates this tomb …

Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny have been summoned to remote Cardavan House, home of the world’s largest private collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts, for the unveiling of George Cardavan’s latest acquisition: a bone fide Egyptian mummy.

When a bloodstained body is discovered beside the empty sarcophagus, Ishmael is dismissive of the theory that the mummy’s curse is to blame. Instead he sets out to uncover the human killer responsible. But how can Ishmael explain the strange, shuffling footsteps that creep along the corridors? Who is playing games with them … and why?

I have read a run of sci fi/fantasy murder mysteries recently – and they have all been a blast. This one is no exception. I enjoy Ishmael’s quirky character – and there is a strong reason for his different take on everything around him. So far this is a classic locked-room mystery with a rich, powerful family who are all very grumpy at what is happening in their very isolated rather creepy house – what fun!

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Review of The Killing Moon – Book 1 of The Dreamblood by N.K. Jemisin

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the killing moonI read and loved Jemisin’s previous trilogy The Inheritance. See my  review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms  here and The Broken Kingdoms here. When I saw The Killing Moon at the World Fantasy Con in Brighton, I immediately snapped it up. Given that it was a different trilogy, set in an entirely different world, would I enjoy this as much as her previous work?

In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and among the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers – the keepers of this peace. Priest of the dream goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe… and kill those judged corrupt.

But when a conspiracy blooms within Gujaareh’s great temple, the Gatherer Ehiru must question everything he knows. Someone, or something, is murdering innocent dreamers in the goddess’s name, and Ehiru must now protect the woman he was sent to kill – or watch the city be devoured by war and forbidden magic.

I did find The Killing Moon harder to get into than her former three books – indeed, I debated whether to break off halfway through the second chapter and wait until I got home from the Conference. But I persevered and by the end of Chapter 3, I was glad I did. With the unfamiliar names and complex political set-up, you really need to pay attention, however that slice of concentration at the start pays dividends as the story picks up – and is the gift that keeps giving. This book is every bit as engrossing as anything else she’s written.

The world is inventive and detailed, with echoes of the ancient Egyptian pantheon of gods, where the tension between the priesthood and rulers created power struggles. Jemisin’s world leaps off the page with the vibrant, poetic prose that has become her trademark. The ornate richness of the temple, the busy crowded streets and above all – the huge, swollen dreaming moon that is probably a gas giant rather than a moon. Not only does this moon dominate the night sky, the belief system that explains its presence also rules the lives of the population. I very much liked the premise that the Gatherers assisted those who were mortally ill to die peacefully – and also handed out summary justice to those who were found to have become corrupt. Which leads to the age-old question – who watches the watchmen?

Gatherer Ehiru has a young apprentice who has just come up from the ranks of the novices, with great potential. Young Nijiri deeply loves Ehiru and the notion of love in different forms is examined in The Killing Moon. The questions Jemisin raises within the plot are far more nuanced and interesting than the usual hetrosexual, romanticised version… Does love of the Goddess keep a soul pure enough to allow regular, ritualised murder? How exploitative is it of Ehiru to realise that Nijiri loves him wholeheartedly, and continue to rely on that love without acknowledging or wanting to return it? At what point does love and duty towards a state allow someone to endanger everyone around them?

In addition to Ehiru and Nijiri, the other main character who drives that narrative is Sunandi, a spy from the neighbouring state Kisua, who is innately hostile to the beliefs and practices of the Gatherers. Through her eyes, we get another view of the priesthood and the society. Among the numerous small details that sparkle in this book, is her belief that darker skinned individuals are better bred than those who are paler, whose ancestry have been polluted by outsiders. Her feisty, questioning attitude is in contrast to the more complacent attitude of the priests – although the action starts when Ehiru unexpectedly encounters a Gathering that is far from peaceful.

This is a tour de force – and if anyone wants a masterclass in how to construct an intricate, three-dimensional world, peopled by interesting, complex characters, then this is a book they should have on their shelves.
10/10

Review of The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany

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This is a book that had a big impact when first published in Egypt – the original Arabic version topped the best-selling charts for two years in a row and has also been very well received since it was translated. It has been widely reported as showing a tolerance for homosexuality – though I’m not so sure. What Al Aswany hasn’t done, is actively rail against homosexuals as the author. However, homosexuals aren’t depicted as having a particularly happy time of it – but then, that applies to most of his other characters.

The narrative structure revolves around the inhabitants of a building in Cairo that was built during colonial times. However by the yacoubian buildingMaburak era when this novel is set, it has fallen on hard times.

Some live in squalor on its rooftop, others inhabit the faded glory of its apartments and offices – among them a womanizing aristocrat, and the secretly gay editor of Le Caire newspaper. Religious fervour jostles with promiscuity; bribery and exploitation with joy and elation; modern life with ancient culture. Taha, the son of the building’s doorman, has aspirations and dreams for himself and his childhood sweetheart Busayna. But when those dreams are dashed on the rocks of corruption, hope turns to bitterness – with devastating consequences…

So goes the blurb. I have to say that while I fully concur with the bits about the hope turning to bitterness and the bribery and exploitation – the joy and elation completely by-passed me. Al Aswany is an engaging writer, whose limited omniscient viewpoint gives a variety of deft pen portraits. His vivid descriptions certainly bring the Cairo landscape to life – and all I can think is that this has beguiled other reviewers to read more humour and joie de vivre into the story than I found. Or the original humour has been lost in translation…

Because I thought this was an extremely angry book. There wasn’t a single character whose life hadn’t been ruined or polluted in some way by corruption and the prevailing institutional injustices. Taha is certainly the outstanding example of a character whose life is particularly blighted – but no one seems to escape from the moral vacuum that seems to preside at the heart of this Cairo society.

As for Al Aswany’s reputed open-mindedness on controversial topics, such as homosexual affairs, or women’s sexuality – I wasn’t convinced about that, either. Throughout the book, I was always very aware that I was reading a book from a different cultural viewpoint. Many times, this added an extra piquancy to the narrative – but there were occasions when I just winced…
‘Homosexuals, it is said, often excel in professions that depend on contact with other
people, such as public relations, acting, brokering and the law. Their success in these fields is attributable to their lack of that sense of shame that costs others opportunities…’
and:
‘They (women) do not love it simply as a way of quenching lust but because sex, and their husbands’ greed for it, makes them feel that despite all the misery they suffer they are still women, beautiful and desired by their menfolk.’

Oh really? Nothing to do with the divorce laws that mean once a woman is rejected by her husband, she can find herself on the streets without her children, I suppose. I’m aware that I am judging this book as a white European woman – but those statements plain graunched with me.

That didn’t prevent me from enjoying the moments of high irony, such as when a couple of crooked politicians who are busy stitching up a ‘public’ office, make constant pious allusions to God throughout their conversation. Or finding the scene between an ageing playboy and his young lover compelling, when he nostalgically recalls the glory days of the building – while the girl bitterly observes that the country is done for and if she had a chance, she’d leave. He is clearly shocked at her attitude – but this exchange was, for me, the heart of the book. Al Aswany’s characters are all suffering to some extent. The rather odd ending is an attempt to provide a sense that all is not lost, though I wasn’t fully convinced. However, it was a riveting read and a fascinating insight into another world – and I would happily read another book by this author.
8/10