- File Size: 718 KB
- Print Length: 249 pages
- Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
- Publication Date: November 27, 2013
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00GWOZWF6
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #967,917 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
Call Me Leila Kindle Edition
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Hanna has her protagonist, Galeila, later to drop her first syllable, and simple be known as Leila, as in the title, play a demonstrative role in illustrating how the 1% restore their "privileges." In Egypt, they fanned sectarian differences, between Muslims and Coptic Christians, and between fundamentalists and secularists. Galeila is caught up in the middle, a "pawn in their game." I thought of Lillian Smith's classic work, written in 1949, Killers of the Dream about how the 1% in the American South would use race to divide poor whites and poor blacks, and thereby having each focus on the other, rather than examine the economic structure that held them in poverty.
It is also a novel involving family relations and the longings of the heart. And in particular, it is on the difficulties women face in Egyptian society. Yes, many an unhappiness, each in their own way. Meshmesha means apricot; "country people" would often give their children the names of fruits. Galeila's mother was so named, born in the countryside in 1950. At the age of 9, she becomes a "maid," (effectively, involuntary servitude) to a journalist's family in Cairo (Hanna notes the irony that he was a liberal journalist writing on the conditions of the poor... and somehow those folks never seem to look inside their own households). Meshmesha grows up within this household, and eventually marries, and Hanna deftly handles the circumstances surrounding the conception and birth of her only daughter, Galeila. The latter's search for her father is also a dominate theme in the book. Ah, father-daughter relationships.
In the background is Egyptian history, particularly the (little recalled, nowadays, in the West) war in the Yemen, in support of Republican forces. Hanna uses one of her characters to sarcastically deride concepts such as "Pan-Arabism." The Six Day War with Israel also plays a part, with more modern concepts of PTSD. Even more modern, and more impressive, was the soldier involved just faking it?
Countries export various products. In Egypt's case (along with the Philippines, Indonesia and Pakistan) it seems that their principal export is their own people. This is another theme woven throughout the novel, starting with Meshmesha's husband having to emigrate to France and Libya in search of work, and ending with a large scale migration to Canada, of numerous principal characters, towards the end of the novel. The pros and cons of Galeilia's (Leilia's) new "heaven" are aptly described.
Should one maintain ties with the past, or "move on" is another climatic question that the author handles well. I was convinced in reading this work that it HAD to be largely autobiographical. Although Hanna is Egyptian, and now living in Canada, she says that it is NOT. If so, and why should I doubt, it is an impressive work of empathy and imagination. 5-stars.
Having spent some 11 years of my life living in Egypt, even working a fair amount in Mansoura, I was impressed at how well Hanna was able to encapsulate life in this city famous for the reasons cited. She does this by showing, instead of telling. This method of setting the stage is especially difficult for most new writers, but Hanna accomplishes the task beautifully for Meshmesha and for Galeila.
I normally do not read novels of this type, but, at her request to review, I did take advantage of the opportunity to download a free novel about life in Egypt spanning the period from Nasser's revolution of 1952 through the Arab Spring and concluding shortly after the first democratically-elected president was ousted in 2013. I especially love how her character, a devastatingly poor Christian, so succinctly had dismissed any concerns regarding Morsi's ouster despite her previous elation at the removal of the Mubarak concern. What I mean is, she didn't spend a great number of pages on this. Less than one. Other writers might have utilized a doesn't or so pages.
Although she DID develop both characters, in just 249 pages, I believe these two women were interesting enough to warrant two books. Book one could have provided a prelude to Meshmesha, with a solid background of Egypt from the time of the Great Depression through the birth of Galeila. Meshmesha and her siblings remind me of Laura and the Little House books or the Walton's but, of course, from a far more poverty-stricken point of view and from a different angle, but the story could sell if well told. Of course, think is still possible and I would buy such a story.
The second book could cover Galeila's life, but would develop more of the characters whom she married and/or loved. And it should include bits of the terrorism that took place in 1997, the earthquake in 1992, and, especially, on the various feuds in Upper Egypt that most Americans would suspect she was exaggerating about.
What I'm saying is, Call Me Leila is a terrific story that could be two great stories if she chooses to.
I definitely recommend this novel. I honestly believe it gives an insight into a demographic within Egyptian society that needs to be heard by people outside Egypt. Too many Americans think all Egyptians are Muslim and too few appreciate the fact that the vast majority of Egyptians are not terrorists. Hanna has found a way to show us both facets of a complex, cosmopolitan, society. Not so diverse as the USA, but nearly so.
I look forward to more novels from this author. She could become a serious Hallmark Channel contributor in the future. It all depends on whether she will continue working to become the very best writer she can be.