Elegantly written family epic that brings to mind Naguib Mahfouz’s The Cairo Trilogy.



A wealthy Muslim family in 1950s Sudan must deal with the challenges—and opportunities—of a changing world.

Director of a successful trading company, Mahmoud Abuzeid has an enviable, if complicated life. With two wives and four children, he straddles two worlds, insulated by his money and influence. His first wife Hajjah Waheeba is a traditional—and illiterate—Sudanese woman who is happy to remain in the family compound. Nabilah, his much-younger Egyptian-born second wife, yearns for the cosmopolitan attractions of her native Cairo. Her sophistication and intelligence represent the future to Mahmoud, who prefers her company. Waheeba’s son Nur, the family heir-apparent, has progressive tendencies like his father, although he is happily betrothed to his teenage cousin Soraya. The two are sweetly in love, but their future looks bleak after Nur is paralyzed during a swimming accident. Reluctant to bind his niece to an invalid, Mahmoud insists they break it off. Soraya, who continues to have feelings for Nur, throws herself into her studies, even enrolling in medical school. But eventually she agrees to marry Nur’s best friend Tuf Tuf. The news breaks Nur’s heart but ignites his creativity, leading him to become an in-demand poet and lyricist for popular musicians—a move which rankles the more conservative family members. Meanwhile, tensions between the two wives reach the breaking point when Waheeba arranges a secret circumcision for Nabilah’s six-year-old daughter Ferial, a custom Nabilah (and Mahmoud) find barbaric. This subsequently drives a wedge between Mahmoud and both his women, as he struggles to do the right thing for his family, especially Nur, who depends on the care of his mother. And all of this unfolds as Sudan struggles for independence from Britain. Rich in detail and generous in spirit toward its complex characters, this concise follow-up to The Translator (2006) showcases Aboulela’s talent for connecting political and personal upheaval. 

Elegantly written family epic that brings to mind Naguib Mahfouz’s The Cairo Trilogy.

Pub Date: March 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1951-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2010

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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