A woman endures three decades of change and revolution, as seen through her account of three pivotal summers—1984, 1998, and 2014—spent in her family's Cairo home.
El Rashidi's first novel is a vivid portrait of life in Egypt spanning her narrator's life from childhood through university days, when she struggles to define art's role in politics. A carefully observant and wildly imaginative child, the narrator describes the monkey bars on the school playground as being shaped like an igloo. And it's this enduring imagination that helps her believe her businessman father is away, maybe in Geneva, when, we intuit, he's one of the many who have been taken away for crossing the government. There's beauty in how the novel shows what its characters know while showing their efforts not to know this same information. At her British school, she writes a story about a prison where people are taken only at night; the teacher gives her "zero out of ten and says I shouldn't be writing such things at my age." But such things are what she experiences. Ghosts populate the waking dreams of the daughter and her mother: ghosts of the grandmother and aunt who occupied an entire floor of their home, now "an echo chamber"; the ghost of Baba, the absent father and husband; and the ghost of a friend known as Uncle. A family is measured by whether their power works when the neighborhood's goes out; the Sadats were "related to us, but not close enough for our power cuts to stop, too." Connections can save and take lives. Despite living in a culture not used to change, she constantly questions her views through her friendship with her communist cousin, Dido. A desire to understand the shifting power dynamics in Cairo drives her, even as she chooses to translate literature: "I heard the word revolution all the time but didn't know exactly what it meant. Nobody answered me when I asked."
An atmospheric kaleidoscope about survival and the moments that, together, become movements.