An elegant if perplexing tale by one of modern Arabic literature’s greatest voices.

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HEART OF THE NIGHT

Enigmatic story by the Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian novelist Mahfouz.

“Al-Rawi. I am Jaafar al-Rawi, Jaafar Ibrahim Sayyid al-Rawi.” The pride in which the protagonist of Mahfouz’s novella takes in giving his name is about the only moment in which he is able to take any pride at all. His grandfather has left his fortune to a waqf, a kind of charitable trust, and not a cent to him. Thinks the narrator, “I was convinced that no one rejected his heirs for no reason. What had you done, Jaafar?” What had he done, indeed? The unstated question, prelude to the narrator’s suggestion that he try talking to his grandfather rather than filing a lawsuit, takes Jaafar deep into his past: He tells of a father who died young, a mother who “talked to the jinn, the birds, inanimate beings, and the dead,” and a grandfather who doesn’t seem such a bad guy and who encourages Jaafar’s religious leanings by saying, “You will find out that every book is a book about religion and every location is a place of worship, whether in Egypt or in Europe.” Ah, but then the secular enters, and things begin to sour: Jaafar marries a woman who “was only a sexual provocation; not a housewife, a mother, or a woman in the true sense of the word” (it’s to be remembered that Mahfouz, though politically progressive, was born in 1911), divorces, remarries, then lands in jail for having killed a frenemy who objected to Jaafar’s quest to found a political party based on a concocted ideology that was “the logical heir of Islam, the French Revolution, and the communist revolution.” There’s an awful lot going on in all that, and Mahfouz, an anti-Islamist, seems to be subtly criticizing events of his time. Whatever the case, now Jaafar is left to wander in the ruins of his grandfather’s villa, broke and perhaps insane: “Let life be filled with holy madness to the last breath” is his last utterance.

An elegant if perplexing tale by one of modern Arabic literature’s greatest voices.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-977-416-998-4

Page Count: 90

Publisher: American Univ. in Cairo

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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