Tuesday, March 22, 2016


This is a graphic novel that was banned in Egypt in 2008, so only an English translation is available for purchase.  It's loosely about some poor people who decide to take their rights through violence and corruption in a violent and corrupt city.  They get a bit hurt in some demonstrations, and there is a love interest for the main character.  The copy of the book I received from Metropolitan Books (New York: Henry Holt and Co.) is very difficult to read.  It seems to have been photocopied or printed in gray scale.  It would be much better if the panels were in a stronger black and light.  The story in fairly interesting.  The title METRO reflects how the story is told from one part of the city to another.  I am giving this 3 stars because it was dangerous for El Shafee to create this novel and put his name to it.  As far as the actual story, it was written in 2007 before the Arab Spring, so it is very prophetic and gives a voice to the Egyptian people before Arab Spring, perhaps giving credence to the events that took place in 2011. It would be a great resource for classroom teachers to use if discussing events that led up to Cairo 2011.

El Shafee, Magdy. Metro: a Story of Cairo. Trans. by Chip Rossetti. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2012. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Comic Relief: a review of Joe Sacco's PALESTINE

Sacco, Joe. Palestine. London: Jonathan Cape. 2003. Print.

I am not a fan of Sacco's style of illustrating. The pictures and people look ugly. That being said, he knows what he is doing. His graphic collection is a hard and honest glimpse into the lives of Palestinians living in camps and elsewhere in the occupied land. It's tough. The stories are tough, and he truly portrays the realities of life there. It's nothing to be shot, go to prison, be beaten, have two sons killed, to have your olive trees cut down because a soldier thinks someone threw a rock from your field. Speaking of rocks, there were plenty in this book and in the stories. Sacco manages to portray through his settings, the realism of harsh landscape, pitted roads, no sewage, and above all, the intensely dense flurry and fury of overcrowding and overpopulation. And still, there is a balance between horror and hospitality, homelessness and home. Sacco never lets the reader forget he is an outsider, as he clearly identifies himself as a reporter looking for the story. As a good journalist, he actually delivers a balanced POV and reliable feature narration. Even though I don't like his style, I'll read more of his work. It's interesting and necessary. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to be better informed about crises, current and past, in the Middle East.

"The Boys." PALESTINE, pp. 190-191

For more about the author, check out his author page.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Early Signs of Genius: a review of MARGARET ATWOOD, SELECTED POEMS 1965-1975

As the title clearly states, this is a selection of Atwood's poetry from her early years. It includes selections from previously published works, THE CIRCLE GAME (1966), THE ANIMALS IN THAT COUNTRY (1968), THE JOURNALS OF SUSANNA MOODIE (1970), PROCEDURES FOR UNDERGROUND (1970), POWER POLITICS (1971) and YOU ARE HAPPY (1974). 

The first few books were a bit too intimate for me. Many of the poems seemed like they are direct comments on her relationships with men, and it was just a bit too revealing. It made me uncomfortable, but that's what good poets should do. She does quite clearly establish herself as a feminist writer, themes which are soon to emerge in many of her novels.

The pace started to pick up a bit in THE JOURNALS OF SUSANNA MOODIE. I was pleasantly surprised that she had essentially written a verse novel. And this might be one of the earliest examples of this narrative structure. The voice of the poems progresses over time, as Susanna encounters life in new and unexpected ways. 

My favorites were the last two series of selections, ARE YOU HAPPY, being one of the best. Perhaps I was influenced because I've recently read THE PENELOPIAD and loved it. The last cycle in the book is a series of "Circe/Mud Poems". I was fascinated to read all the themes and foreshadowings in these poems that quite clearly informed her interpretation of THE ODYSSEY. 

Having familiarized myself with her novels, it was a joy to read her early work. The best thing about reading it was getting to know her in another context. It's quite clear that she has matured as a writer and developed her ideas into her body of work over time, while remaining true to herself and the beliefs she holds dearly.