“..to be a witness to history is a burden.,” is what the narrator’s uncle tells her. He also encourages her to write, to chronicle, to keep records. This is an evocative novel of a time and place, of coming of age, and blistering hot summers.The people of Egypt, because of past memories, history and education as well as the weather, become languid, passive full of despair and inaction. Listless. Friends and family disappear. Her father is imprisoned. Her mother becomes depressed. Education goes down the drain. Everyone stops thinking. The colors of the walls in the apartment get darker. One summer, youths in kufiyyahs, dust curling around their knees, throw rocks, angry because all opportunity for future generations has evaporated and merged with the humidity of the languid polluted Nile. Those young men end up in morgues with phone numbers scrawled on their arms; the phone numbers of their mothers; they themselves scratched the numbers on their arms when they left their houses, knowing they might not return.
The writing of the novel itself is noteworthy. In the first 25% of the pages, the writer Yasmine El Rashidi, uses very short sentences. At times the simplicity is annoying. But the sentence structure eventually blossoms into more complex sentence structures, which embrace increasingly complex ideas about revolution, family, and Egyptian politics. In the end the mind, ideas and maturity of the narrator evolve full force in this paean to the value of life in country unable to accommodate those who live in it. We can thank El Rashidi for her artistic investigation and of the problems, both personal and political, in the modern world as presented in this noteworthy first novel. I look forward to her future work.