Out el Kouloub achieves a modest success by importing some of the feel of an 18th-century British novel into her rendering of harem life in traditional Egypt. Egypt's Out el Kouloub based Ramza, written and published in French in 1958, on her own harem experience, and she portrays these forbidden women's quarters in Middle Eastern households in all their paradox. Sequestered from the outside world, the harem women create their own exclusive world where oral culture thrives: They exchange stories to entertain, console, and bond with one another. Ramza, the novel's heroine, breaks both male and female norms by venturing into her father's study (in the men's part of the house) where she learns to read and write. Although time is unspecified, the novel is set in the era of British influence over Egypt (18821952), and Ramza's education is distinctly European. Influenced by John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women and Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, Ramza, not surprisingly, grows into a young woman of surging independence who is constantly threatened by the undertow of her powerful emotions. After the death of her bridegroom on the eve of an arranged marriage, Ramza falls in love with Maher. Forbidden by her father from marrying Maher because of his social status, Ramza resolves to escape the harem and elope. Her pursuit of desire and fulfillment at all costs gives her an appealing intensity, but Out el Kouloub (Khul-Khaal, not reviewed) often mars the characterization with melodrama. During Maher and Ramza's assignation in a Bedouin tent one can almost hear ``Midnight at the Oasis'' wafting through the flaps: ``Maher pulled me into his arms and his lips touched mine. At that moment I felt I was committing the greatest folly of my life, but I could not stop myself.'' Unique by virtue of its subject and resourceful treatment, not the author's craft.

Pub Date: July 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8156-2618-5

Page Count: 222

Publisher: Syracuse Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1994

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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