We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

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The Nine Pound Hammer by John Claude Bemis

The Nine Pound Hammer by John Claude Bemis

The Nine Pound Hammer is a new young adult novel by North Carolina teacher and musician John Claude Bemis. And it is fantastic. The novel is historical fantasy based on American, and especially African American, folklore, set in the early 1890s in the American South. The book draws on lore of John Henry, hoodoo, bottle trees, African American traditions, and other Americana. It’s well-written and beautifully imagined. It’s especially refreshing for its multiracial cast of characters (unlike most classic fantasies, where the good guys are white and the bad guys are dark).

I was so excited to read this book–and I wasn’t disappointed–because the author is an old friend of mine. The Nine Pound Hammer is the first novel in a trilogy, and I can’t wait to read number two next summer.

1 September 2009 Posted by | books | 1 Comment

Last November (11/20)

So, you know that novel-ish thing I wrote last November? This summer, I re-read a few chunks of it. Uck! Ugh! Blech!

In the past, when I’ve re-read old college and academic papers, I’ve often been pleasantly surprised. “Hey,” I’d think, “this doesn’t totally suck!”

Sadly, that was not my experience reading the novel. Total escapist drivel. I couldn’t even read parts of it. Too painful (not emotionally, but as a reader!). Of course, last November I was pounding out words and paragraphs without too much regard for quality. One of the rules of NaNoWriMo is Never Delete! Which I did not, even when I realized I’d written myself into a corner and had to backtrack.

I found a couple of paragraphs that seemed to capture some details of what I wanted to do. So, maybe two paragraphs out of 50,000 words don’t totally suck.

Of course, this novel served an important purpose: last November, I was just starting to experience real frustrations being in Cairo, and writing was a distraction from that. It was also great to have a goal and carry through with it, which I do professionally but rarely with personal goals for things like writing. (Okay, I pulled off extensive paperwork for two international adoptions, but creative endeavors typically receive much lower priority for me.)

I also got novel writing out of my system.

Would I do NaNoWriMo again? Absolutely. When Mr. Four has the job that brings us to some wonderful place where I can spend November in my jammies, typing away, while he works.

So, to re-phrase that: will I ever do NaNoWriMo again?

Probably not.

20 November 2008 Posted by | books, our life in egypt | 3 Comments

Mating by Norman Rush

(Here’s my fifth and final review for the Africa Reading Challenge, though I’ll continue to blog good books as I read them.)

“In Africa, you want more, I think.”

And so begins Mating, a novel that deserves more praise than I can eloquently offer. I read this book last spring in Dahab, and it absorbed me completely. It’s an excellent book, an amazing love story that is never sappy, but always intelligent and often funny.

Mating was published in 1992, when I was an undergrad. I remember seeing the paperback around the campus bookstore in College Town, and I never bothered to read it, but I always had the sense I should read it. A good friend at the time–a young man I adored–told me that the protagonist reminded him of me. Still I never read it.

After all that time waiting, it still didn’t disappoint. (And, actually, the comparison to the protagonist, a feminist who goes after love with everything she’s got, and is a wee bit self-absorbed, was really quite lovely to recall as I reflected upon my old friend and my old self. Old self? I’m still a feminist and I blog, which many consider a reflection of being self-absorbed. But let’s leave this discussion for, say, oh, never.)

The first-person narrative about this young woman, who chases her anthropologist love through the Botswana bush, is incredibly compelling and entertaining.

I enjoyed this book even more because I knew so little about it. So I’m going to end my review here. You can dig up some more information on Amazon, undoubtedly. Or, take my advice: find Mating and read it.

24 October 2008 Posted by | africa, books | 3 Comments

Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta

Nigerian writer Sefi Atta penned the novel Everything Good Will Come, which focuses on two women friends from childhood to adulthood. It’s a coming-of-age story of sorts, and intended to show different paths available to women in today’s Nigeria.

I didn’t adore this book with all my heart, but it’s a good read, especially if you are a feminist who likes to read novels about women in different parts of the world. I did enjoy learning more about Nigeria, which seems to have an incredibly rich literary scene, but if you are going to read only one novel from a Nigerian writer, let it instead be Half of a Yellow Sun.

This makes four books I’ve blogged about for the Africa Reading Challenge, adding to the following:

Plus I’ve already read Mating by Norman Rush and just need to blog it. Coming soon!

23 October 2008 Posted by | africa, books | Comments Off on Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta


Folks, I don’t get out much. I know, I know: I usually seem so cosmopolitan!

Truth is, I go to work, sometimes take the boys to school, go to the pool on the weekends… but that’s pretty much it. I don’t even get to the further-flung supermarkets, accessible only via taxi and planning, instead preferring the convenience of the place around the corner. And we certainly don’t spend every weekend at the Pyramids.

If you live anywhere long enough, life becomes normal. Even in Egypt.

But I was reminded of my own special dullness tonight when, unlike most evenings, I was actually out at night. I took Puppy Four back to the vet. This dog now freaks out when he gets out of the taxi at the vet’s office. Makes for a fun evening. Anyway, his brain is definitely scrambled, even though he’s sweet most of the time at home. I had a good cry over the whole thing last week, but tonight the vet suggested we wait a few more weeks before we make any decisions. The vet says he’ll never really be normal, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have a happy, seizure-free life. So we’ll see.

Anyway, I had to go pick up more meds (this time, a steroid) for the pup, as well as a few things we need for our vacation. So I found myself at the local shopping center. It’s not the giant western mall, but one serving pretty much just my corner of Cairo.

And it was bustling. At 9:30pm. When usually I am home and, if not asleep, pretty close. And not thinking at all about going out.

Ramadan ends tomorrow night, and the holiday Eid el Fitr begins. Egyptians usually celebrate Eid el Fitr as a family, and they buy new clothes for their kids. So there were tons of families out tonight, choosing their Eid outfits.

It was great fun to wander around the shopping center spying on people. I was one of the few westerners there, so maybe they thought they were spying on me. The mood was festive, and it inspired me to do some of my own shopping. I got some very cute red shoes, locally made and pretty cheap, so we’ll have to see if they last. Plus I bought some sand toys and a jump rope for the boys.

Tonight made me wish I was out and about in the evenings more often. Maybe it’s the weather, but even when it’s not Ramadan, Egyptians really are night people.

I am also a night person. Which is why I’m awake and blogging at 11:30 when we’re leaving tomorrow on vacation and I have tons of things to do.

So, yeah, that vacation. We’re going to Dahab again. I blogged quite a bit about our April trip there. We had an amazing time, enough fun to make us want to go back. Mr. Four will dive a couple of days, and we’ll all snorkel in the sea, swim in the pool, and walk the Corniche. It’s super relaxing.

The shopping spirit was with me earlier today, when I indulged in new paperbacks, which I rarely do. So David Sedaris and Sarah Watters will be joining me in Dahab.

Plus we have a whole week! Eid last a few days, and early next week there’s an Egyptian national holiday… the timing is perfect.

It’s been a quiet month for me on the blog, and this week will be doubly so. Eid Mubarak!

29 September 2008 Posted by | books, family, fun, holidays, shopping, tourism | 5 Comments

Beyond the Horizon by Amma Darko

What a treat to stumble upon this lovely novella.

The story itself isn’t lovely, but involves a young and naive Ghanian woman whose husband abuses and exploits her. The novella begins at the story’s end, in Germany, with the protagonist reflecting on her transition from village girl to city wife to German prostitute. It offers insight into life in Ghana as well as the African immigrant experience in Europe.

Moreover, Beyond the Horizon is an incredibly compelling tale of a woman trapped first by naivety, and then by circumstances.

This book has me eager to read other works by author Amma Darko. If you are interested at all in African women fiction writers, I recommend it.

Note: a lot of students find their way to this blog entry because they have been assigned to read this blog. I am not going to help you do your assignment, nor am I going to sell you a paper. Please read the book (it’s short and very good) and do your own work.

12 September 2008 Posted by | africa, books | 10 Comments

Mukiwa by Peter Godwin

My summer reading (of which there was little, unfortunately) centered on Peter Godwin’s memoir Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa. I resisted this book because I’m far more interested in black people in Africa, and, frankly, I have my own prejudices about white Africans. I didn’t want to read an account of some idyllic, naive white childhood. But I was finally motivated to read it because it was on my shelf and because of the Africa Reading Challenge.

I’m pleased to report that my (completely uninformed) pre-judgment on this book was totally wrong. Instead, as Godwin recounts his childhood and young adulthood in then-Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, he also chronicles the end of white rule in this southern African country. It’s a fascinating story.

Godwin’s parents raised three children in then-Rhodesia, where they worked as a factory manager (dad) and doctor (mom). The first part of Godwin’s memoir comprises his mostly happy childhood in the rural countryside, when black Africans were family servants and factory workers. Even then, however, black African fighers were beginning to attack white settlers, and a sense of unease pervaded the white community.

The next part of the book focuses on Godwin’s post-secondary school obligatory national service with the militarized police. He served as a soldier, fighting alongside white and black soldiers and fighting rebel black soldiers, even though he and his family supported the rebels’ goal of black majority rule.

After leaving the police, Godwin left the country to attend Cambridge, and the final part of the book recounts his return to Zimbabwe briefly as a lawyer, defending his former enemies, and eventually as a journalist, uncovering atrocities committed by the army under Mugabe’s black government, for which he was expelled from Zimbabwe.

Godwin’s catharsis, near the book’s close, about his family’s role, and the whites’ role, as settlers in then-Rhodesia, is perhaps worth the entire read. I was fascinated to learn how the white Rhodesians viewed their grandparents as pioneers and themselves as settlers, as entitled to their farms as Americans consider ourselves to be entitled to our homes in the US. White Africans don’t have a monopoly on displacing and killing native peoples.

Books are my portal into learning about new countries and cultures. Godwin’s excellent memoir Mukiwa opened the door to Zimbabwe for me.

13 August 2008 Posted by | africa, books | 1 Comment

Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila

The Africa Reading Challenge asks folks to read five books about Africa or by African authors in 2008 and then review each book in a blog post. I’m good at the reading part, and I like the blogging part, but I’m a miserable reviewer. So you’ve been warned.

I found Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel on some list of great African literature somewhere linked from the original Africa Reading Challenge blog post. If for only this book, I am glad to be focusing my reading on Africa.

Waiting for an Angel is a short book, closer to a novella, really, or linked short stories. It focuses on a group of young people during a coup in Nigeria. Habila’s writing is quite lyrical. I’d say it reads like a poem, except poems aren’t always easy to follow. How about it reads like a flowing stream? Or maybe more like a whitewater river: always downstream, but big nasty rocks along the way (in the form of some really tragic happenings).

Okay, no more river metaphors from me. I’m trying to say this was a great book about very sad things. The end.

16 June 2008 Posted by | africa, books | 2 Comments

Africa Reading Challenge update

When I started the Africa Reading Challenge, this was my draft list of books to read:

  • Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)
  • Held at a Distance: A Rediscovery of Ethiopia by Rebecca G. Haile (Ethiopia)
  • The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt)
  • Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (South Africa)
  • Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller (Rhodesia/Zimbabwe)
  • Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera (Zimbabwe)
  • Measuring Time or Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila (Nigeria)

Ha! I laugh at myself. There’s no way I’m reading that much Mahfouz. Here’s my current list, with two down and three to go:

  • Mating by Norman Rush (Botswana) done!
  • Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila (Nigeria) done!
  • Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria) on my shelf
  • Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (South Africa) to be obtained
  • Another book TBD (I have lots of my shelf but I’m not sure yet which I’ll end up reading)

So, that’s the update.

14 June 2008 Posted by | africa, books | 5 Comments

Reading Sudan

About three years ago, I started combing book lists for books about Ethiopia. My search expanded geographically, and I read a lot of stuff about Sudan, probably because there’s so much great writing coming out of Sudan–which is probably because of all the terrible things happening there.

In an earlier post, i recommended What Is the What by Dave Eggers. Of the four Lost Boys narratives I’ve read, this is the best, because a talented writer and editor, Eggers, took Valentino Deng’s powerful story and combined it with his own writing talents. When I read What Is the What, I was already familiar with the basic plotline of Deng’s story, which is similar to other Lost Boys’ works, but the story still captured my attention completely. None of these stories are easy reading–a friend of mine had a hard time with What Is the What because it’s really such terrible thing that happened to these young kids–but they are incredibly compelling.

If you’d like to read more accounts of young refugees from Sudan, here are some other great books:

God Grew Tired of Us: A Memoir by John Bul Dau
They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan by Benson Deng, Alphonsion Deng, and Benjamin Ajak

I’ve also read some more current Sudanese memoirs. Some people don’t know that slavery still exists in the world, including in modern day Sudan. The word is getting out, in part because of the writing and speaking of the following two authors, whose books I recommend:

Slave: My True Story by Mende Nazer
Escape from Slavery: The True Story of My Ten Years in Captivity and My Journey to Freedom in American by Francis Bok

It’s incredible the injustices these two endured including, in Nazer’s case, being enslaved in London after the family who kept her moved there.

All of these books relate directly to the tragedies happening daily in Sudan, so reading them is a good way to learn also about the current situation there.

So, that brings you all up to date, pretty much, on some great books I read before I started the Africa Reading Challenge. There is more to come. Let’s hope it’s soon.

12 June 2008 Posted by | africa, books | 3 Comments