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Laura Kasischke: The Raising
Craig, Nicole's boyfriend, is behind the wheel when an accident claims her life. A year later, everyone on campus is still blaming him for her death. The problem is he has no recollection of what happened that dreadful night.
Perry Edwards is Nicole's high-school best friend and Craig's roommate. Having seen Nicole's apparition several times on campus, he signs up for a class on death, dying and the undead given by Mira Polson. Questioning his own sanity and trying to figure out what really happened to Nicole, he recruits Mira on his quest for the truth.
Another significant character is Shelly Lockes, a music teacher at the university. She is the first to arrive at the scene of the accident and is the only eyewitness. She can't fathom why no one is listening to her account of what really happened.
The author spends the first few chapters of The Raising acquainting the reader with the characters. Although the story is at first rather slow-paced, you'll end up with a profound understanding of the characters; their detailed description transforms them from just figures on paper to real personalities.
Not only does the novel show how the loss of a close friend has shaken the characters to their cores, but it also deals with the inevitability of death. It makes readers question everything they thought they knew about death and the afterlife.
The Raising is an eerie read with a lot of suspenseful twists. It's the kind of story that will keep you guessing till the very end. It's dark and mysterious, but as the story progresses and secrets are revealed, the reader eventually comes into the light.
Kasischke has a way of engaging her readers. Her ripe imagination and vivid writing can give you goose bumps. The Raising is definitely not a light read; it requires a lot of your concentration, and that patience pays dividends with a terrific story.
Although on the surface it might seem that The Raising is your run-of-the-mill ghost tale, it’s the kind of novel that is not easily forgotten. Once you've put it down, you'll be thinking about it for quite a while afterwards. Hopefully, not in your nightmares though.
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.
Born and raised in Texas, Gretchen McCullough's teaching career has taken her to Egypt, Turkey and Japan; currently, McCullough teaches writing in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo.
Released earlier this year, her latest publication is titled ‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’; a compilation of short stories revolving around a host of eccentric individuals and their experiences in Cairo. A large bulk of the stories are driven by the thoughts rummaging through the characters minds and, more often than not, they transpire to be both charming and relatable.
‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’ has a colourful team of characters with strong presence, charisma and an air of familiarity. Digging deeper into their personal lives and problems, her writing style is distinct, bringing an American charm and non-linearity to her stories, which builds a pleasant intricacy.
With many of the characters connected by a single building in Garden City, McCullough allots the main characters in her stories as small cameos in others, spreading the characters' presence and allowing for further development.
In ‘A Little Honey and a Little Sunlight’, we are given insight into the raging nature of Professor Gary by his dying neighbour, Joe Pulaski - a poet - reminiscing his days spent living in Cairo. Many pages later in ‘Pure Water’, we find ourselves reading from the eyes of Dr Gary as he spends time with his bulky Greek friend, Kolombos, in a mental asylum before the uprising of January 25th. The title story, meanwhile, sees two main protagonists; journalist and teacher, Mary Beth Somers, and her dentist, Dr Samy. Far from sappy, the two fall into a love which avoids the overt romantic notions seen in cliched literature, despite ending on a melancholic note.
Aside from the characters, Cairo as a city is portrayed as an integral player in the stories. On regular occasions, vivid descriptions of popular places in the city are given, such as El Horreya, Windsor Bar, the Gezirah Club and Koshari Abou Tarek. Having visited all these places ourselves, it's obvious that McCullough has immersed herself in the city, and amongst its people, well beyond the point of a touristic escapade. She’s become a sort of semi-native, in touch with Cairene culture, but maintains enough outside insight to give a new perspective to those who’ve been living in the city for too long.
With its mix of emotions and interesting character troupe, ‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’ promises an entertaining, comforting read for both locals and foreigners alike.