Self-Made Destinies in Cairo
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 The ordinary life of a resourceful woman of Cairo makes for an illuminating and unexpectedly engaging study of women, poverty, and Cairene life. Wikan (Ethnography/Univ. of Oslo) has spent 25 years visiting and living in the poor quarters of Cairo with a woman named Umm Ali and her husband and eight children, chronicling their predicament-filled life. As members of the lower class, they know that life is relentlessly difficult: Money is scarce, space is cramped, violence to women is customary. Yet the family members' common refrain of ``Tomorrow, God willing'' suggests a hope for the future built on a link between God and their own initiative, an ``encouraging message . . . that by helping yourself, and only by helping yourself, life will bear fruit.'' Umm Ali is proof of such belief, constantly generating money for family necessities through loans or savings clubs, preparing her children for marriage, and enduring the self-destruction of a son and the beatings and lack of support of her husband. As Umm Ali sees it (Wikan is smart and caring enough to set the bulk of the book in her words), these incidents are part of life, and life, while it is often painful, is also often fraught with excitement and possibility. Wise, proud, giving, and volatile, she makes the book a page-turner, one of the few ethnographic studies to be fueled by the question, What happens next? Thanks to Wigan's skill, readers are plunged into the dense reality of a third- world society facing chronic poverty, yet maintaining a strong sense of family, community, and self-respect. By chronicling Umm Ali's family with compassion and leading readers to feel the same, Wikan has gracefully accomplished the book's goal--to begin to forge a better world. As Umm Ali would say, ``Talking together makes wise.'' (photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-226-89834-2
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1996