Like I’ve said before, it’s great having a public library with an international authors shelf that’s always kept well-stocked with a diverse collection of fiction from around the world. One novel I happened to come across during one of my frequent library visits happened to the short Egyptian novel The House of Jasmine by Ibrahim Abdel Meguid. Originally published in Arabic back in 1986, an English language version was published this spring courtesy of Interlink Books. Even though I burned through Meguid’s novel relatively quickly I was left wondering just how much I enjoyed it. Looking back on The House of Jasmine, just like it is with a lot of thing in life, I guess there are things about it I liked and things about it I didn’t like.
First of all, the novel is set not in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, but the coastal city of Alexandria, a city that for whatever reason has always fascinated me. Second of all, as one follows the slightly bumbling adventures of the novel’s narrator and protagonist Shagara, one gets a street-level view of the complicated and frequently absurd life of your average Egyptian citizen. Unable to financially get ahead, be an active part of any meaningful political process or settle into an affirming and committed romantic relationship, life in Shagara’s in Egypt while not feeling horribly oppressive nevertheless still seems a bit devoid of opportunity.
As for the downsides, for whatever reason I just couldn’t get into this novel. While I could find no fault with Noha Radwan’s translation (and her short commentary at back of the book I found very helpful) there was something about the storytelling that just didn’t suck me in and keep me actively engaged. Maybe it’s just me, but something about the novel’s pacing or structure just didn’t work for me.
But the cool thing about reading The House of Jasmine is it counts towards not one, but three different reading challenges. Being Egypt is part of the Middle East, it’s covered under Helen’s Middle East Reading Challenge. Since Egypt is also part of Africa, it counts as part of Kinna’s African Reading Challenge. And lastly, since it’s fiction, I can include it as part of Kerrie’s Global Reading Challenge. So, with one book satisfying the demands of three different reading challenges, how could I go wrong?