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Susan Richards-Benson: Born of the Pyramids: Rocky's Story
Susan Richards-Benson spent 7 years living, working and volunteering in Egypt, during which time she had her eyes opened to the harsh reality of working animals in the country. Her passion for animal activism was ignited and Born of the Pyramids: Rocky's Story is Benson's expose of the suffering of Egyptian equines.
Narrated through the eyes of a horse named Rocky, the story unfolds from his birth in stables close to the Great Pyramids of Giza, where he is raised to be a performer. Following an unfortunate mishap, Rocky is sold to a vegetable vendor who, unlike the stable owners, is less informed on caring for a horse. Forced into hard labour, Rocky is whisked into a life that finds him both over-worked and malnourished.
Though the book seems haphazardly put together, the author succeeds in exposing the harsh realities faced by horses in Egypt. Through Rocky, she engages the reader in various scenarios of maltreatment, such as horses being forced to wear ill-fitting bridles and the painful ritual of having ginger placed under their tails. The latter is done in order to keep the horse's tail raised during performances. What's worse is that horses employed to drag carts around Cairo are often hammered with cheap, used horseshoes, fitted with rusty nails that lead to hoof infections.
On the bright side, Richards-Benson also tells of recovery centres and feeding clinics that are dedicated to nursing working horses back to health. But more importantly, she's shown that like many issues in Egypt, the root of many problems lies in people's poor education rather than having cruel intentions.
From a literary stance, the prose flows like the diary of a bright, primary school child – the vocabulary is simplistic, but at times expressive. Unfortunately, Benson fails to caress the reader with words, which is essential to a plot where pain is the central driving force. Born of the Pyramids reads as a list of events, enriched to highlight the presence of animal abuse in Egypt. There is no character development, and everyone in the book appears and vanishes, merely to facilitate events. Even the narrator is the same from the first page through to the final chapter and there's no character arc.
Though it cannot be credited as a literary accomplishment, Born of the Pyramids does fill the reader with compassion in its stark portrayal of an issue that many are oblivious to. The author also donates a percentage of the book's proceeds to animal charities.
Detective Bosch has a lot going on in his personal front as well; his fifteen-year-old daughter who is way too mature for her age and wants to grow up to be a police officer is his main support system at home, and a budding romance between Bosch and a social worker adds a tinge of romance to Bosch's life.
The novel is left open-ended, in a way that allows the characters to seem more real as if their lives will continue beyond the pages of the novel.
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.