from Jalapa, Guatemala
I picked this up from the information center on a whim, because the cover and premise looked interesting. It's a translated Egyptian novella, about high spirits in Chi mostly from the perspective of Egyptian students and foreigners. Overall, this was pretty engaging and it was instructive (and often depressing) to see how high spirits in U s a (under Bush) is/was viewed by a liberal freelancer from a Middle Eastern culture. It also reminded me, as did reading 'Chalky Tiger' last stage, that I don't know very much about the internal politics of other countries unless they happen to be featured on NPR when I happen to be attentive. Al Aswany is very critical of Leader Mubarak and his dispensation's relationship with the U.S., but I had to google to find out why. This is one of the of the values of reading international anecdote, to me, once I get over being embarrassed by all the good I don't pay attention to. As a novella, this was just okay. There are a lot of different edge of view characters who are sketched without much fathomage, and there's more a focus on personal melodrama (one tone has a drug-addicted offspring, another is sterile with his American wife because he misses his true love back in Egypt), and when the chalky lie incites away from Egyptian foreigners to American characters, it feels particularly forced. The whole fact seems very well-intentioned -- there's a lot of bad treatment of grandmothers told from the female edge of view, and apparently meant to make us aware that grandmothers are often treated badly, but it's mostly just unpleasant to read without bene-faction much in the way of insight. I'd have liked to see a few of the storylines fleshed out more, particularly the political intrigues. Eye-opening, in a lot of ways, but not nearly what it could have been as dissertation.