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.
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.
The AAA Book Club picks have been made for the rest of the summer and early fall. Get excited and get reading!
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
Written by British author Rudyard Kipling, The Just So Stories for Little Children were first published in 1902. These highly fantasized origin stories are among Kipling’s most famous works. We will probably discuss this book the week of August 6. For those with Smartphones, you may be able to download a digital copy for free that you can read from your phone. Or find an audiobook or e-book version! The stories are fairly short and easy to read.
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Chosen in honor of the preludes/postludes for the Sea Cloud II back-to-back cruises, The Cellist of Sarajevo will be our fall pick, to discuss near the end of September.
Inspired by a true story, The Cellist of Sarajevo explores how war can change one’s definition of humanity and the impact of music on our emotional endurance. In a city under siege, four individuals whose lives have been turned upside down are reminded of what it means to be human. Through his window, a musician sees 22 of his neighbors and friends standing in a bread line. When they’re suddenly killed by a mortar attack, the musician decides to play his cello at the site of the tragedy for 22 days to honor their memory. Elsewhere, a young man leaves home to find drinking water for his family and must measure the value of generosity against survival. A third man, who is older, sets off in search of bread; instead, he meets an old friend who reminds him of the city he thought he’d lost, and the person he used to be. A fourth character — a female sniper — holds the cellist’s fate in her hands.
Happy summer reading!
The New York Times reports that 4 new books on Cuban architecture have recently been released, and we couldn’t be happier! Our office loves to read and is thrilled to be accompanying trips to Cuba. Below the link to the New York Times article are a few photos of Cuban architecture taken on one of our recent trips, as well as a photo of historian Julio César Pérez Hernández, who often lectures during our programs.