The unending conflict between Faith and Reason is given intriguing fictional form in this uneven yet fascinating symbolic allegory by Egypt's 1988 Nobel Prize winner. Though it was originally serialized there in 1959, Mahfouz's deeply provocative novel never did appear in book form in his native country (a slightly expurgated version was brought out in Lebanon in 1967, and a previous English translation, under the title Children of Gebelaawi, was published in the US in 1981 by Three Continents Press). It's the story of the sons, descendants, and other rivals and successors of Gabalawi, a mysterious patriarch who rules over an alley in a motley neighborhood located somewhere between urban Cairo and a threatening nearby desert. Gabalawi, whose great wealth and sovereign power are reputedly ill-gotten, rules tyrannically over "his" people and especially over his five sons. When the management of Gabalawi's estate is entrusted to his youngest son Adham, and the latter is tempted, first by his disgraced older brother and then by his beautiful wife, to pursue secrets deliberately withheld from him, this Adam and his Eve are cast out from their paradisiacally favored status—and the novel's meanings begin to emerge. In the second of five sequential and related episodes, another Moses (Gabal) brings prosperity to a chosen few. Following him, the Christ-like Rifaa preaches scorn for material wealth—but nevertheless becomes the victim of the jealous stewards of Gabalawi's estate. A more militant popular leader, Qassem, reenacts the history of the prophet Mohammed. And, in the cryptic final sequence, the "magician" Arafa, whose arts and sciences are meant to rescue the alley's poor from servitude, becomes the pawn of local ruling authorities, with predictably ruinous results. Gabalawi's arbitrary power remains forever unbroken. Despite its frequent discursiveness, a rich, ambitious, and absorbing (though deeply pessimistic) work: further proof, if any were needed, that Mahfouz's magnificent storytelling powers are wedded to a daring and discerning criticism of life that places him among the greatest of 20th-century novelists.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 1996

ISBN: 0-385-42094-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1995

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

Did you like this book?