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Anne-Marie Drosso: In Their Father's Country
Following the 2007 release of Cairo Stories, a collection of short stories on Egypt, author Anne-Marie Drosso presents her first novel In Their Father’s Country, which dives deep into its characters’ emotions as well as the country’s complex history.
The story begins in Cairo in 1924 with Claire and Gabrielle Sahli, teenage sisters from mixed Egyptian and European ethnicity. They are coming to terms with their father’s recent death, and though their personalities can’t be more different, they have one thing in common: their deep love for Egypt.
The novel focuses on Claire’s character: the reader follows her disappointments and triumphs throughout her ninety-six years. Her personal ups and downs follow a pattern that is somehow related to Egypt’s political developments during one of its most complicated times.
Most of the events in Claire’s life– or at least the ones that are so elaborately depicted– are unbelievably sad;, from the very first page till the last. Death is the main focus of almost all of the novel’s characters. Yet, the very profound and emotional descriptions of the death scenes do not dispel the questions that the reader may have about characters that weren’t developed enough and elaborated on before their deaths.
The fact that the author has lived in Egypt comes across through the graphic descriptions and accurate grasp of the complexities of Egyptian society; in fact, Drosso lived in Egypt for the first twenty-two years of her life. Although the author writes in English, she lists the dialogues in the precise way that Egyptians converse in, and she describes places with a clear familiarity. She truly and exceptionally manages to capture the Egyptian soul in her writing, which makes In Their Father’s Country an interesting read for someone familiar with or intrigued by the uniquely Egyptian atmosphere.
In Their Father’s Country is both complicated and simple: there are no major events that change the pace and sequence of the story, and there aren’t really any surprising twists either; yet the author maintains a firm grip on the reader’s attention. Every word in this page-turner seems to evoke an emotion in the reader.
In Their Father’s Country is an insightful portrayal of human emotions, and it takes us back on a nostalgic journey to the golden ages of Egypt. As the story is written from the perspective of the main characters, readers can easily relate to them as real people who have really experienced everything described in In Their Father’s Country.
The structure of the book is difficult to map out. While the story is chronological in the bigger sense, events tend to jump back and forth, where each child slave’s full story is only revealed the further you read. We do not know exactly how either of them came to be until to the end.
Other distractions from the story line are religious references. Using Biblical references, verses from the Quran and the history of Moses and Adam, Thompson uses mythical tales to reflect on the characters at hand and the trials they face. He even has a character and element that bears an uncanny representation of Noah and his arc.
Apart from his use of history and religious fables, Thompson also tells a very aggressive, and often times, dark story. Dodola is married off as a child and upon turning to prostitution is subjected to rape and mistreatment. Zam is a slave who sacrifices his manhood out of a loss of a better life. They are both abused time and time again and having their misfortunes sketched out for the eye to witness adds a shocking element to the novel.
This brings us to what makes the novel so wonderful at the same time; the illustrations. The detailing of the sketches and the exemplary hand-work at play is extremely commendable. Action scenes have your eyes rushing through the pages as frantically as one seen on a TV screen. The beauty in the details is endless; the graphics are looming and grand but also sensual and precise. There is a lot of calligraphy incorporated, which makes for an interesting experience for those who can read Arabic.
Another interesting aspect is his combination of the new and the old. Though the story takes place in today’s world, a lot of the prevalent ideologies are from nomadic times; primitive and beastly.
There is indeed something quite poetic about the story he tells – and the manner in which it is told – regardless of the gruesome, harsh aspects; on the contrary, it is these parts that make the novel that much more meaningful.
The first impression of main character Abby, a freshman at university, is that she’s a goody-two-shoes and seems to have a reserved, shy personality. She is just starting a new independent life as a student far away from home, but her peace of mind is soon disturbed when she meets Travis; an underground fighter who goes to the same school. He's the kind of guy that every girl should avoid but still dreams of taming. With tattooed arms, the rebellious enigma captures Abby's attention instantly and though he has trouble written all over him, she can't help but get sucked into his world.
But on the other hand, Travis is also somewhat spellbound by Abby's innocence. What he doesn't know, and neither do we at the time, is that he’s in for a surprise; with a sharp tongue and a strong personality, Abby manages to charm the bad boy into submission. As the story progresses, we see Abby building a shield to protect herself from being another challenge that Travis conquers. Frustrated with Abby, Travis is forced to comply with her strict rules and settles for being ‘her friend’.
The novel takes an unusual turn when Abby loses a bet with Travis and is forced to live with him for a whole month. The lines between innocent friendship and love become blurred and as the story goes on, McGuire gradually delves deeper into Abby's fears and the dark past that is still hunting her.
Jumping up the New York Times bestselling charts soon after being published, Beautiful Disaster is much more than a just another romance novel.