Book Review: Touching tale of an orphan’s journey of discovery

“After Coffee” by Abdelrashid Mahmoudi is a charming journey through time. (Shutterstock)
Updated 12 February 2019
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Book Review: Touching tale of an orphan’s journey of discovery

CHICAGO: From east of the Nile Delta, in long-established farming villages in the Egyptian province of Sharkia, comes a story filled with history, folklore, and belonging.

Winner of the prestigious Sheikh Zayed Book Award in 2014, and translated into English in 2018, “After Coffee” by Abdelrashid Mahmoudi is a charming journey through time, weaving in and out of the lives and struggles of its main characters.

Mahmoudi’s story revolves around orphan Medhat, a five-year-old boy from Qassimi village who finds himself in a strange new world where he must quickly learn the lessons of life.

The tale begins in Qassimi where local man Khalil’s sister, Zakiya, has eloped with a young man named Salama, and there seems to be no respite from the disgrace. Other village scandals emerge as Mahmoudi introduces different families with their own distinct traditions and unfulfilled dreams.

Qassimi and two nearby villages are divided not only by a canal, but long-standing animosities, and amid this Medhat’s story starts to unfold in an unhurried and almost unnoticed way, much like his life.

Having lost his parents, Medhat aimlessly wanders the streets with his dog Farid, until one day he meets a Greek woman called Marika who is attending a wedding in his village. Taking a shine to the young boy, she invites him to come and stay with her and her husband Salem in Ismailia, a beautiful city situated on the banks of the Suez Canal.

Medhat agrees, and soon he is embarking on a new life which turns out to be both joyous and bleak. Ismailia, with its many neighborhoods and varied inhabitants, presents a world in stark contrast to Medhat’s village, where he must be resilient in his desire for a meaningful life.

Mahmoudi creates a long and harsh journey for Medhat, but ultimately one where he will understand that no matter how far he goes, his roots will always be embedded in Egyptian soil.

Mahmoudi is a poet, writer, translator, and academic. “After Coffee” was first published in 2013, in Arabic. It was translated into English by Nasha Gowanlock and published by Hamad Bin Khalifa University Press in 2018.


What We Are Reading Today: The Plaid Model

Updated 16 February 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: The Plaid Model

Author: Richard Evan Schwartz

Outer billiards provides a toy model for planetary motion and exhibits intricate and mysterious behavior even for seemingly simple examples. It is a dynamical system in which a particle in the plane moves around the outside of a convex shape according to a scheme that is reminiscent of ordinary billiards.
The Plaid Model, which is a self-contained sequel to Richard Schwartz’s Outer Billiards on Kites, provides a combinatorial model for orbits of outer billiards on kites, says a review on the Princeton University Press website. Schwartz relates these orbits to such topics as polytope exchange transformations, renormalization, continued fractions, corner percolation, and the Truchet tile system.
The combinatorial model, called “the plaid model,” has a self-similar structure that blends geometry and elementary number theory.
The results were discovered through computer experimentation and it seems that the conclusions would be extremely difficult to reach through traditional mathematics.