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: Air Traffic by Gregory Pardlo

Updated 22 April 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Air Traffic by Gregory Pardlo

  • The author examines the ramifications of the episode on his family’s legacy, then expands to consider questions of race, addiction and fatherhood

Air Traffic is a courageously written book that chronicles among other things Gregory Pardlo’s complex relationship with members of his family, particularly his father and younger brother.

Gregory Pardlo’s father was one of the thousands of air traffic controllers fired in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan. The author examines the ramifications of the episode on his family’s legacy, then expands to consider questions of race, addiction and fatherhood.

Pardlo “is a talented writer and he examines so many issues in this memoir — race, economics, manhood, addiction, family and sibling relationships, marriage and parenthood,” says a review published in goodreads.com. A review published in The New York Times, Janet Maslin said: “The book is centered on the troubled relationship between the author and his father, although it roams freely in many other directions ... Simple description does not do Pardlo’s story justice; only his own sublime words can achieve that.” The review added: “When Pardlo won the Pulitzer in 2015 for his collection Digest, the citation praised his ‘clear-voiced poems that bring readers the news from 21st-century America, rich with thought, ideas and histories public and private.’ Replace the word ‘poems’ with the word “essays,” and you have an apt description of the second part of Air Traffic.”