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

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 novel tailor-made for those who cherish books and libraries.

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THE PARIS LIBRARY

World War II Paris during the German occupation forms the setting for an intelligent and sensuously rich novel of a young woman's coming-of-age.

In 1939, Odile Souchet, the daughter of the captain of a police precinct, has just finished library school. She lands her dream job assisting patrons of the American Library, which serves both foreigners and Parisians, and falls in love with one of the police officers her father brings home for dinner. As the war proceeds and the Nazis take over the city, she fears for her twin brother, who has been captured by the Germans, places herself in danger by transporting books to Jewish patrons who are forbidden to visit the library, and begins to question some of her boyfriend's actions. Her story is juxtaposed with that of a teenager named Lily who, in 1983, lives in a small rural town in Montana. When Lily's mother becomes ill, Lily grows close to her previously frosty next-door neighbor Odile, who moved to Montana as a bride immediately after the war ended. While the chapters featuring Lily are snappy and often amusing, especially as she begins to adopt Parisian airs, they play a distinctly secondary role to those concerning Odile's life during the war. Structurally, the novel sometimes sags: Charles tends to move into the points of view of secondary characters, which leads to some repetition. But the author has a clear affection for both Paris and the American Library, where she worked as a programs manager in 2010, and she integrates the stories of many of the real-life employees and patrons of the library into the story with finesse, earning the novel its own place in the pantheon of World War II fiction.

A novel tailor-made for those who cherish books and libraries.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3419-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

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ANXIOUS PEOPLE

Eight people become unlikely friends during a hostage situation created by an inept bank robber.

In a town in Sweden, a desperate parent turns to bank robbery to help pay the rent. Unfortunately, the target turns out to be a cashless bank, which means that no robbery can take place. In an attempt to flee the police, the would-be perpetrator runs into a nearby apartment building and interrupts an open house, causing the would-be buyers to assume they're being held hostage. After the situation has ended with an absent bank robber and blood on the carpet, a father-and-son police pair work through maddening interviews with the witnesses: the ridiculous realtor; an older couple who renovates and sells apartments in an effort to stay busy; a bickering young couple expecting their first child; a well-off woman interested only in the view from the balcony of a significant bridge in her life; an elderly woman missing her husband as New Year’s Eve approaches; and, absurdly, an actor dressed as a rabbit hired to disrupt the showing and drive down the apartment price. Backman’s latest novel focuses on how a shared event can change the course of multiple people’s lives even in times of deep and ongoing anxiousness. The observer/narrator is winding and given to tangents and, in early moments, might distract a bit too much from the strongly drawn characters. But the story gains energy and sureness as it develops, resulting in moments of insight and connection between its numerous amiable characters.

A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6083-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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