a spot of culture

I don’t think I have mentioned it before, but I have joined a local literary circle or book-club. Well it could not be more different from my other, crazy, festively social book-club, where books are incidental and the wine and gossip is WAY more exciting than the literature. No, at Kutub we all read the same book, in either Arabic or English, and then we discuss it over fruit juice instead of wine. It’s very grown-up indeed, and very interesting 🙂

Anyway, last night, which was my second meeting, we discussed our latest read, namely “Palace Walk” by Naguib Mahfouz. The book is the first part of the “Cairo Trilogy” and is set in a VERY traditional house in Egypt around the time of WWII. It is, according to the Arab speakers in the group, written in very classical Arabic, except for the dialogue which is in colloquial Egyptian and makes a stark and interesting contrast to the beautiful language used in the descriptions. Sadly it seems this contrast is missing in the English translation, and I found the book rather wordy and slow going, with too many descriptions and some repetition. I am ashamed to say I haven’t actually finished it yet. I guess I have read to many run-of-the-mill thrillers lately and need something dramatic to happen in every chapter for me to stay engaged.

The point of me telling you all this is really to get to mentioning the discussion we had about the book last night. It was very enlightening. We were lucky enough to have a Saudi-Arabian lady present, who had read the book in the original Arabic, and had also visited the part of Cairo where the main story is set, including the coffee shop mentioned. She shared some very interesting insights into such a traditional family as portrayed in the book. It was fascinating to hear that she believes that where there is now great wealth, from oil and so on, Muslim ladies are actually less free than they were two or three generations ago, when they were expected to work, and would be found outside, bare-headed, selling fish or farming. Another gent shared that in Egypt now the younger generation of girls are voluntarily choosing to cover-up, with 18 or 19 girls out of 20 doing so nowadays, versus 1 or 2 a generation ago. Its fascinating how, with globalisation and people moving to live in other countries, the second generation feels the need to impose it’s cultural identity, whereas their parents were merely content to build a life, integrate and provide for them instead.

I love getting these new insights!

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