- Hardcover: 192 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (January 23, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0684809052
- ISBN-13: 978-0684809052
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 7.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,492,454 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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I Know Many Songs, but I Cannot Sing Hardcover – January 23, 1996
"How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals" by Sy Montgomery
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From Publishers Weekly
Again demonstrating the facility he showed in his well-received debut, Still Life with Insects, Kitely here offers another entrancing miniature, which pairs two dissimilar outcasts in contemporary Cairo. Ib, an expatriate American historian and translator of the Sufi mystic poet Rumi, finds his easygoing lifestyle disrupted by Gamal-Leon, an Armenian-born theater critic and drama teacher raised in Cairo. Gamal spies on the rattled American, follows him everywhere and plays practical jokes intended to challenge Ib's preconceptions of Egyptians and the Middle East. Their friendship is a duet of mutual cultural misunderstandings played out during the last weeks of Ramadan, the month-long Muslim holy period of daytime fasting and nighttime feasting. Kitely compellingly evokes the tensions of contemporary Egypt: its jarring juxtapositions of antiquity and Western pop culture; the million homeless refugees who camp out on the streets and in the parks of Cairo; the ubiquitous police informers who record ordinary citizens' conversations. His polyglot characters are complex. Ib is anguished at the recent death of his Dutch stepfather, whom Ib's mother divorced so that she could remarry Ib's father. Ib feuds with his sisters, who are jealous because he received his stepfather's entire inheritance. (Ib is a Danish name akin to Jacob, the biblical twin who persuaded his brother, Esau, to part with his inheritance.) Meanwhile, Gamal, an Armenian Christian, wrestles with his unhappy marriage to a Coptic Egyptian whose sister, a convert to Islam, married a Muslim terrorist now in jail. Kitely's motley circle of expatriates lends a cosmopolitan flavor to an exquisitely wrought mosaic.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
A combination of a Kafka novel, Robert Altman movie, and psychedelic record album, this strange, dreamy little novel from the author of the well-regarded Still Life with Insects (Graywolf, 1993) takes on themes of inversion, foreignness, and communications breakdown. Set in Cairo during Ramadan (the Muslim festival during which participants fast during the day and feast by night), the tale unfolds as an American known only as Ib is joined more or less purposefully by an Armenian named Gamal-Leon (who eventually deconstructs his own name: a "quick-change artist, a slippery tongued mimic who does not know his own voice or face") to visit playhouses, executive office parties, a prison. All these activities are overcast with a significance not totally apparent. Kiteley offers an elusive, hypnotic, even hallucinogenic novel about being as well as the mysteries of being. Highly recommended for literature collections serving sophisticated readers.
Robert E. Brown, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, N.Y.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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Kitely explored "foreigness" in a variety of forms in Cairo - the American (respectful and disrespectful), Coptic Christian, German Sufi's, Armenian, and a variety of 'native' Egyptians who either by mixed heritage or Western education also are 'foreign'. Kitely is superb in allowing the Egyptian world-view to be as real as the European world-view at the same time that he emphasizes the contraditions.
The story line is seemingly simple ... an Armenian actor begins following an American/European teacher as a practical joke; they become friends an spend a remarkable night in Ramadan going from house/shop/office/prison/street to another. One cultural is consistently being played off another to provide competing explanations of the events. Kitely is a master at using the small detail - standing less than a foot away comfortable for Egyptians but not Americans, crooked lanes keeping cities cool while European straight boulevards allow the wind to blow cool night air away ... With the ever shifting perspective of dream, premonition, police spying, story time, added knowledge, the reader has a sense of being 'foreign' to the novel - a touch of Kiteley's mastery of his form.
Neither of Kiteley's novels should be neglected, even if it requires searching the used book market.