Middle East/North African Lit discussion

I Sweep The Sun Off Rooftops
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2013 readings (Regional tour) > I Sweep The Rooftops (March-April 2013)

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Lauren | 138 comments I am waiting for my copy to arrive. Some group leader, huh? But if anyone wants to get started, I invite you to go ahead and I will catch up.


Diane S ☔ I just got my copy yesterday, hoping to start soon.


message 3: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - added it

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
i have a copy, but haven't started yet. i read one of her novels a really long time ago and remember loving it so i'm super curious about this book. :)


message 4: by Niledaughter (new)

Niledaughter | 2781 comments Mod
Thank you Lauren for leading the discussion :)

*****
I will not be able to read this book , but I read for Hanan Al-Shaykh , |I liked the story of her mother The Locust and the Bird: My Mother's Story; it was a very interesting read , while The Story of Zahra: A Novel was a depressing one , I couldn't make a soild opinion about it ; yet it is categorised as one of the best one hundred Arabic novels .

Marieke wrote: "i have a copy, but haven't started yet. i read one of her novels a really long time ago and remember loving it so i'm super curious about this book. :)"

What did you read for her ?


Diane S ☔ Read the first story and quite liked it, what an opening sentence.Actually there were times when I would have liked to have bitten off my mother-in-laws nose.


message 6: by Marieke, Former moderator (new) - added it

Marieke | 1179 comments Mod
i read Women of Sand and Myrrh: A Novel, but it must have been almost twenty years ago that i read it.

i'll try to start these stories within a couple of days. :)


message 7: by Sue (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sue | 628 comments I've read 4 stories and I've enjoyed them except I had some problems with "The Land of dreams". I couldn't really believe that someone like Ingrid existed in such a naive dream world and that she would be accepted. Or was the entire story and it's resolution supposed to be the dream?


message 8: by Diane S ☔ (last edited Mar 20, 2013 05:36PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane S ☔ The first story reminded me of The Boy who cried Wolf. I read somewhere that many of these stories and fairy tales have a duplicate version in every culture. Think this is one.


message 9: by Sue (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sue | 628 comments That sounds very likely.
I liked "The Spirit is Engaged Now" as a different take n contacting the beyond.


Diane S ☔ I loved the image at the end of that one, when she is cradling the cup.


message 11: by Sue (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sue | 628 comments Yes. I did too. I want to say too much that can spoil if one hasn't read it.


Lauren | 138 comments I am about halfway through the book. A little background on the author cobbled together from a variety of sources.

Hanan Al-Shaykh was born in 1945 in Beirut, Lebanon where she went to a traditional Muslim primary school for girls. Al-Shaykh began writing at a young age and by sixteen had essays published in the newspaper she would eventually work for, al-Nahar. She attended the American College for Girls in Cairo, Egypt and worked and as a journalist for a women's magazine, Al-Hasna.

Her first novel Intihar Rajul Mayyit was published in 1970, followed by which contained more autobiographical elements, including her relationship with her religious father and her marriage. In 1976 she moved to Saudi Arabia because of the Lebanese where she wrote Hikayat Zahrah (The Story of Zahra). No publisher would touch it and she had to self-publish. v

In 1982 Al-Shaykh moved to London, and in 1989 published Misk al-ghazaal (Women of Sand and Myrrh). Also banned from many Middle Eastern countries, it follows the story of four women (two from an unnamed Arab country, one Lebanese, and one American) coping with life in a patriarchal society. It was named one of the 50 Best Books of 1992 by Publishers Weekly. That same year she published Barid Bayrut (Beirut Blues), a novel consisting of ten "letters" written by a Muslim woman named Asmahan during the Lebanese Civil War.
In 1994, Al-Shaykh published a collection of short stories called Aknus al-shams an al-sutuh (I Sweep the Sun off Rooftops). Only in London followed in 2000


Lauren | 138 comments One of the criticisms about her which I thought was interesting was that her stories are so critical of religion and the relationships between men and women are portrayed so negatively, that they feed into the West's bias against Islam and preconceived notions about gender in Islamic countries.
What do our readers think of that idea?


message 14: by Sue (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sue | 628 comments Lauren wrote: "One of the criticisms about her which I thought was interesting was that her stories are so critical of religion and the relationships between men and women are portrayed so negatively, that they f..."

Funny, I hadn't seen or felt the stories that way as of yet and I'm also about half way through. These stories don't seem at all realistic, though, and that may make some difference. Some of them seem almost in a dream world.


message 15: by MiA (new) - rated it 1 star

MiA (mirhershelf) | 61 comments The posts made this read all the more interesting. I intend to start it right after I finish "THe Druze of Belgrade".


Diane S ☔ I agree with Sue on the dream world quality, I felt that as well. I like the stories, but as towards a bias, I suppose some of the stories do not show men in the best light, but than many here in the States do not either. I am not all that familiar with their culture, only of course what I have heard and read, so it is hard to say if these stories are realistic portrayals or not.


Lauren | 138 comments I also find the stories have a dream-
like quality. But her characters strike me as so lonely - I felt the same way about the women in women of Sand and Myrrh. Everyone seems so isolated and unhappy.

The story I have liked the best so far was Qut Al-Qulub. I thought it had the most nuance and the most interplay between the modern and the traditional.


Merri can't wait to start this book. I read the Story of Zahra when I went to the university of Jordan and adored it. I can't wait to start reading this one but I have to wait because it isn't released on kindle until April 1st. Ugh!!


message 19: by MiA (last edited Apr 02, 2013 07:12AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

MiA (mirhershelf) | 61 comments I've already started the book the day before yesterday, but as I read through the first couple of stories, I couldn't find anything extraordinary about it. I'll keep you updated as I go on.


Lauren | 138 comments I found some of them so heavy handed but I am holding back to see what more people say before I go into specifics.


Diane S ☔ I liked "The Marriage Fair, there was just something very cunning but human about the characters motivations.
While everyone was pitying her she was secretly rejoicing.


message 22: by Melanie, Marhaba Language Expertise (new)

Melanie (magidow) | 626 comments Mod
I found the story intriguing too, but in the end, I don't agree with the idea that marriage must kill passion. It's a very pessimistic view (with plenty of supporting evidence!), and in the end I'm not convinced. The writing itself was skillful, but I'm still searching for a story in this collection that I can say I really liked!


message 23: by Sue (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sue | 628 comments Melanie, I'm in the same situation. Some stories are interesting, more than others, some seem better written than others. All in all, so far it seems an uneven collection.


Diane S ☔ I didn't agree with the premise, but that is the story that has stuck in my mind for some reason. It did, I believe contrast the culture, in this marriage fair custom with the new thinking, that not everyone wants to marry for whatever reason they have. I do agree the collection as a whole is very uneven, but that story and the story with the woman cradling the teacup are the two I liked the best.


message 25: by Sue (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sue | 628 comments So far the teacup would be my favorite.


message 26: by Melanie, Marhaba Language Expertise (new)

Melanie (magidow) | 626 comments Mod
I finished the collection, and I realized one reason why I don't enjoy Hanan al-Shaykh's work. Her characters are not likable. However, this is not necessarily a failure on her part. I might be very intentional. she shows people's eccentricities, misperceptions, and weaknesses, I appreciate when authors balance these with other qualities because it reminds me of how we do this all the time for our friends. When authors focus only on characters' madness, dark sides, and obsessions, it seems to reduce literature to an angry message to the world. For those of us who have come to expect inspiration, pleasure, or beauty from literature, her writing may seem lacking. Fortunately there's no consensus on what is meant by "good" literature, which means there's something for almost anyone.


Lauren | 138 comments I find the men to be very unsympathetically written and some of the stories to be very heavy handed.


message 28: by Sue (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sue | 628 comments I've decided not to finish the book. The stories are so uneven and, as Lauren writes above, some are quite heavy handed. Some seem almost naively written to the point that I wonder if they were written at different points in the author's career. I read about 2/3rds of the book.

there are so many other books that I want to read that I prefer to move on.


message 29: by MiA (new) - rated it 1 star

MiA (mirhershelf) | 61 comments I understand where all that was mentioned above come from. I'm half way through the book and up until now I don't find a story that I really enjoyed reading. There's a recurring gender prejudiced theme here and there that the way in which it was handled doesn't appeal to me much. I'll update you as I go on.


Lauren | 138 comments I'd love to hear from someone for whom these stories really work or at least ring true.


message 31: by Sue (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sue | 628 comments I would too Lauren as I don't know if my response is culturally influenced more than I think it is. That's so difficult to know.


message 32: by Melanie, Marhaba Language Expertise (new)

Melanie (magidow) | 626 comments Mod
It may be culturally influenced, and it may also be generational. I think of Hanan al-Shaykh as a writer of the previous generation, not the current young generation. She writes as part of a generation that was fed up with religion and many cultural traditions. Women of her generation tended to speak out against localized patriarchal traditions. I think that young women today are less hostile to localized traditions, and more likely to think of themselves in terms of global networks. It's hard to make such a generalization. I wonder if anyone has studied this...


message 33: by Sue (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sue | 628 comments That's interesting Melanie. Also interesting is that she's just a few years older than me but obviously raised in a very different environment. Of course the whole feminist movement was rising in the US and Europe when I was in college too so perhaps she is expressing some of the same kind of thoughts in different cultural terms. And her society was different and more patriarchal.


message 34: by MiA (new) - rated it 1 star

MiA (mirhershelf) | 61 comments The most interesting to us as Arabs is that we've always thought of the Lebanese as more open and suffer less from the patriarchal traditions in the Arab world. Hanan AlSheikh showed the opposite. The psyche of her characters are overly oppressed with gender biases (It seems more of a prejudice to me). Moreover, there's a lot of angry messages communicated through this collection of short stories. I can't say that I enjoyed any of them, although there were touching PARAGRAPHS in Samar's story.


message 35: by Sue (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sue | 628 comments Thanks for the insight Marwa. I guess personal, familial experience is what we must be seeing reflected.


message 36: by MiA (new) - rated it 1 star

MiA (mirhershelf) | 61 comments Sue wrote: "Thanks for the insight Marwa. I guess personal, familial experience is what we must be seeing reflected."

I agree that it seems personal to me. but I have to stress that my opinion is personal and somewhat biased as well and maybe it's just that I don't see things the way she reflects them in her writing. I believe that, whether a man or a woman, each of us has his/her own faults and flaws and after all that's exactly what makes us human. Her generalizations is the thing that didn't appeal to me much, or that's how it seemed to be.


message 37: by Sue (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sue | 628 comments Marwa wrote: "Sue wrote: "Thanks for the insight Marwa. I guess personal, familial experience is what we must be seeing reflected."

I agree that it seems personal to me. but I have to stress that my opinion is ..."


I think that's what we each bring to our reading Marwa and that's why sharing in this, and so many other GR groups , is so great. We bring so many perspectives to our reading.


Merri Lauren wrote: "I'd love to hear from someone for whom these stories really work or at least ring true."

This is a common thing I keep reading from this thread. I wrote a review for the short stories but haven't had time to type it up yet. Really, how can these stories not ring true is the question? What about them seems fictitious? They all follow some melodramatic line, yes, but that's just like life. Some of them do seem a bit far-fetched but she's not writing about alien invasions. I feel the only ones that seemed a tad redundant were The Spirit to Engage Now and whatever the one about the cheating man and the wife's urn. I guess living in the Middle East gives a different perspective allows the possibility for these stories to ring true, even if they do seem soap-operaish


Lauren | 138 comments Zahra, you are right, my phrase' ring true; is not clear. What I meant was not that they seemed fictitious, but rather that they seem melodramatic.

My biggest problem with her stories is that they never seem to get below the surface. The male characters are indistinct. I don't feel like I really understand how the women negotiate their environments - whether they are married, single, living in the west or the east. I want more from her characters.

It is also why a story like Qut al-Qulab really worked for me. I felt like I was seeing multiple worlds intersecting - the world of the village, the absence of the men because of jobs in other countries, the very personal story of the main character and how the rest of the village understood her.

I think Melanie is correct, that some of this is generational.

It may also be tied up with our ideas about gender, feminism, and personal freedom.


message 40: by Sue (new) - rated it 2 stars

Sue | 628 comments Lauren wrote: "Zahra, you are right, my phrase' ring true; is not clear. What I meant was not that they seemed fictitious, but rather that they seem melodramatic.

My biggest problem with her stories is that they..."


Thanks Lauren, you express some of my concerns also.


message 41: by Jalilah (last edited Aug 04, 2016 07:28PM) (new)

Jalilah | 774 comments Here I am joining this discussion over three years later! I'm not even sure if I was in this group back then.
It's probably too late to get any replies on this, but I just want to say that I am currently reading The Locust and the Bird: My Mother's Story and absolutely loving it!
Interestingly enough, I almost decided not to read it while I was reading the prologue! I have it as a library book and was so turned off my the tone and style that I decided to return it.
The next day I decided to give it another try and now I'm hooked! The story is beautiful and moving. Because it's a real life telling of Hanan Al-Shaykh's own mother, the story is very simple and straight.
I highly suggest reading it before writing her off completely!


message 42: by Melanie, Marhaba Language Expertise (new)

Melanie (magidow) | 626 comments Mod
Thanks Jalilah for the endorsement. I haven't found a lot by Hanan al-Shaykh that I would want to reread, but she's certainly worth knowing about, and I'm glad that you're enjoying The Locust and the Bird!


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