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Lucy Caldwell: The Meeting Point
Literature has always benefitted from the idea that we live in a global village. The pursuit to discover other cultures and exotic habits is always fascinating especially when set to the backdrop of an interesting story and complex characters. In her new book The Meeting Point, Lucy Caldwell delves into a culture that has been rarely unearthed in Western fiction works; the Gulf.
Set in Bahrain, Caldwell tells a story that includes only a few characters, but contradicting ones nonetheless. As the Iraqi war starts, the story follows two main characters - Ruth, an Irish woman who moves to Bahrain with her husband and baby to do Christian missionary work, and Noor, a British-Bahraini teenager who has moved from London to live with her father after her parents’ divorce.
As the two characters meet and form a friendly bond, they both discover weaknesses and strengths inside themselves which are tested by a swaying turn of events that changes the course of their relationships with others. Noor struggles with feelings of self-loathing, while Ruth begins to question her faith and marriage as she meets Noor’s cousin, Farid.
Ruth’s character might shock the readers with behavioural ups-and-downs that might come off as a little unbelievable. Yet the style of writing, and maybe the presence of other unstable characters, makes the reader fall back on psychological explanations to her transformation from a rural Christian girl to a woman who has an affair with a nineteen year-old boy and starts to suddenly doubt her faith.
Most of the characters of The Meeting Point are afforded with detailed accounts of their emotions and thoughts. However, the progress of the story could have been more appealing to the readers. For one thing, it moves slowly and only scrapes over the surface of the events. The description of the setting, the dusty winds and heat of Bahrain gave certain credibility to the events, but it comes across as a novelty rather than being significant to the plot.
Strong, unspoken relationships and paradoxes are what The Meeting Point is about. It builds on slowly rising resentment and desire, for attention as well as understanding. The Meeting Point is one of those novels that will linger and resonate in your mind long after you flick over the last page.
A simple online search would give you a chronological account of the Egyptian revolution; accurate dates, death tolls and perhaps even the names of the martyrs. But it will not tell you how it made the Egyptian people feel. Statistics can't describe what the families of the martyrs went through and it cannot accurately express the weight placed on the hearts of millions of Egyptians during this time.
Soueif doesn't ignore the violence perpetrated by the regime against protestors; she also mentions those who have lost their lives. She has kept in mind that by the time readers received her book a lot would have changed, so she frequently refers to the fact that we – her readers – would know more about the current situation than she did while writing it.
As she walks down every street, she supplements her story with memories and anecdotes from her childhood and adolescence, adding an emotional and personal dimension to her book and making it easy for readers to imagine why she is still attached to Cairo despite her long years in London.
The book is a refreshing spin on a now-over-a-year-old revolution. It brings hope. Soueif's sharp senses have led her to assume that by the time the book hits bookshelves, hope would still be the number one motivation and that's how she writes; invoking hope and persistence in the hearts of her readers.
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.