John's Reviews > I Loved You For Your Voice

I Loved You For Your Voice by Sélim Nassib
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's review
Mar 18, 2014

it was amazing

Before reading this superb, poetic, and enthralling book, do yourself a favor and listen to some of the music of Umm Kulthum, one of the greatest voices of 20th-century music. You don't need to understand the theory or history of Egyptian music. You need only to hear her voice -- and know that this woman of seminomadic background became a unifying force for Egyptian culture. People gathered around radios every Thursday evening to hear her concerts, and she performed work by Egypt's greatest musicians and poets.

It's good, too, to know that among the poets who wrote for her, Ahmed Ramy had as high a place as any, perhaps higher. He wrote for her for decades, and rumors abounded that he and she were lovers, or in love, or admirers. Selim Nassib has taken that story and created a fictionalized, first-person account of Kulthum, her art, her age, and her Egypt.

First and foremost, it's a great, distant, longing, regretful, sometimes angry, sometimes exultant love affair, with a shared art (poetry/music) as their only lovemaking; art, however, allows them a connection fiercer and more durable than sexual, a bond that holds through myriad political, cultural, and personal upheavals. (He marries and has children; she, rumored to be a lesbian, marries a doctor and stays, seemingly, untouched by passion.)

Second, this is a novel about Egypt between 1920 and 1975, a turbulent time in which the country went from dysfunctional governmental system to dysfunctional governmental system. As the narrator and the singer journey through the decades, so does Egypt, with hope, confusion, and violence. Nassib interweaves the love story, or the life stories, with that of the country and its people and culture. We feel them as inseparable.

The three main characters -- poet, singer, and the poet's friend Muhammad -- are humanely and deeply drawn.

This is a passionate book, and some of the more oceanic moments -- the accounts of an audience's flock-mind reaction to Kalthum's singing, for example -- have been called overwritten by some reviewers. I think they are perceptive about music and about the ineffable ways music transfixes millions and focuses their aspirations and visions of themselves and their lives.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
March 18, 2014 – Shelved

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