This extraordinary novel provides a close look into Cairo society at the end of World War I. Mahfouz’s vehicle for this examination is the family of al-Sayyid Ahmad, a middle-class merchant who runs his family strictly according to the Qur’an and directs his own behavior according to his desires. Consequently, while his wife and two daughters remain cloistered at home, and his three sons live in fear of his harsh will, al-Sayyid Ahmad nightly explores the pleasures of Cairo. Written by the first Arabic writer to win the Nobel Prize, Palace Walk begins Mahfouz’s highly acclaimed “Cairo Trilogy,” which follows Egypt’s development from 1917 to nationalism and Nasser in the 1950s.
Book club members had an interesting discussion of My Promised Land over lunch, with insightful comments added by other Arrangements Abroad staff coming in and out of the kitchen. The book raises lots of challenging and fascinating points about modern Israel and its history.
Our next pick is My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. We will most likely not meet to discuss it until January, so happy reading through the holidays! If you love it, maybe you will already be into one of the sequels by then (it is a four-book series).
About the Book:
The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists.
This worldwide celebration is marked in over 100 countries around the globe. Each year, UNESCO picks a World Book Capital for a one-year period (this year’s choice is Incheon, South Korea).
Our staff loves books and reading, and we even have a book club here at Academic Arrangements Abroad. For our next book club pick, we will be reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It is about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II, and coincidentally it just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
The next couple of months will be busy with spring trips. Also, the book is a bit long, so we are planning to have a discussion about the book during the second half of June.
The summer selection for our book club is Behind the Red Mist, a book of short stories by Vietnamese writer Ho Anh Thai, published in 1998. One of the most important writers of Vietnam’s postwar generation, Ho Anh Thai brings an intimate knowledge of the Vietnam War into perspective with a style that is whimsical as well as sharp-sighted.
According to the description on Amazon.com: “In this first collection to be published in English, the characters range from a party official who turns into a goat while watching porno movies, to an Indian who carries his mother’s bones in his knapsack, to a war widow trying desperately to piece together her life through the fragments of debris she collects from her back yard. The title novella Behind the Red Mist is a Vietnamese Back To the Future, a social satire in which a young man in the Hanoi of the eighties receives an electric shock and is transported back to his same apartment block in 1967 wartime Vietnam during the American bombing. He not only witnesses the war with the eyes of someone who knows its outcome, but participates in his parents’ courtship and discovers some truths about the generation held up to his own as a role model.”
Want to discover fascinating Vietnam as well as Cambodia? Join Maxwell Hearn from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in late October and early November to explore Hanoi, Hue, Danang, Phnom Penh, and Angkor Wat.
Our next book club selection is The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende.
Born in Peru and raised in Chile, Isabel Allende is considered one of the first successful women novelists in Latin America. She is the author of eight novels, a collection of stories, three memoirs and a trilogy of children’s books. She writes in the style of “magical realism.” Allende’s works have been translated into more than 27 languages and have become bestsellers across four continents. In 2004 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
According to one review, “The House of the Spirits is an enthralling saga that spans decades and lives, twining the personal and the political into an epic novel of love, magic, and fate.” The novel tells the tale of Chile’s 20th-century history through three generations of the fictional Trueba family.
Our discussion will probably be in late January. Happy reading!
The AmaDagio cruise from Lyon to Arles is coming up fast, and Lyon is the birthplace of Antoine de St Exupery. So it seemed appropriate to read The Little Prince for our next book club selection. It’s a classic for all ages — and a very quick read.
St Exupery had a very interesting life. He was a successful commercial pilot before World War II, working airmail routes in Europe, Africa and South America. At the outbreak of war, he joined the French Air Force and flew reconnaissance missions until France’s armistice with Germany in 1940. He then traveled to the United States to persuade the U.S. government to enter the war.
After a 27-month stay in North America, during which he wrote three of his most important works, he joined the Free French Air Force in North Africa (even though he was beyond the maximum age for such pilots and in declining health). On his last assigned reconnaissance mission in July 1944, he disappeared over the Mediterranean and was presumed dead.
His literary works, among them The Little Prince, translated into over 250 languages, propelled his stature posthumously to national hero status.
Our last book club discussion, on I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago, was great! We all liked it and recommend it to the rest of you – an easy, interesting read.
Our next selection will be A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler by Jason Roberts.
Here’s a brief description: “He was known simply as the Blind Traveler — a solitary, sightless adventurer who, astonishingly, fought the slave trade in Africa, survived a frozen captivity in Siberia, hunted rogue elephants in Ceylon, and helped chart the Australian outback. James Holman (1786-1857) became ‘one of the greatest wonders of the world he so sagaciously explored,’ triumphing not only over blindness but crippling pain, poverty, and the interference of well-meaning authorities (his greatest feat, a circumnavigation of the globe, had to be launched in secret). Once a celebrity, a bestselling author, and an inspiration to Charles Darwin and Sir Richard Francis Burton, the charismatic, witty Holman outlived his fame, dying in an obscurity that has endured — until now.”
One of our 2014 trips will be along the Camino de Santiago, so we thought this book might be fun to read in preparation:
I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago
by Hape Kerkeling, Shelley Frisch (Translator)
A review on Amazon.com describes the author as “one of Germany’s most beloved celebrities, a cross between Bill Bryson and Paulo Coelho.” The book chronicles Kerkeling’s pilgrimage along the famous route.
Publishers Weekly says: “Encounters with other pilgrims enliven this travel account, especially the two English-speaking ladies who accompanied him toward the end; as they approached Santiago, they all felt emotionally uplifted. While the author is better known in Germany and his antics somewhat lost in translation, his emotionally probing narrative develops depth and a touching sincerity.”
We plan to meet and discuss this book near the end of June.
The Academic Arrangements Abroad book club is continuing with our Asia series (our last book was an interesting look at China’s modernization). For our first discussion of 2013, we have two picks, both of which are Japanese.
Volume I of I Am a Cat
By Soseki Natsume, known as the leading Japanese novelist of the Meiji period.
Animal lovers will delight in these stories written at the beginning of the 20th century. The tales, satirizing upper-middle-class Japanese society, are told from the point of view of a cat.
Volume I of Astro Boy
By Osamu Tezuka, considered the godfather of manga (Japanese comics) and the Walt Disney of Japan.
This is one of the first books in the manga genre, which in recent years has become hugely popular worldwide among children and adults.