The House of Jasmine
This book is set in Alexandria, Egypt, during the Sadat era and is essentially a snapshot of Egyptian life and attitudes in that city during that time. One instantly becomes aware of the corruption rampant not only among high government officials, but even among society’s lower-level denizens such as the point-of-view character “Shagara,” who skims funds off the top for himself instead of paying workers under him their full measure for attending government- sponsored rallies. In fact, his impossible (for a male) name means “tree” in Arabic, and in the “deep-rooted” sense makes him a stand-in for all of Egypt. And, just to make sure all of his readers got the message, the author makes many references to Shagara’s unusual height.
Many of the issues presented in this novella were still present in January 2011 when the anti-Mubarrak revolution began and from that standpoint might help western readers understand why the Egyptian people took to the streets. However, I personally found the book to be a difficult go for the most part. The first-person viewpoint with a character who was not very likable is a hard grind—although he did change for the better near the end of the book. The major problem, however, was that every time it looked like the author was beginning to develop a storyline he would go off on a different tangent. On the other hand, fans of literary fiction who get goose bumps over novels devoid of structure, plot, and story might enjoy this.