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Shahrazad’s Tooth

Gretchen McCullough: Shahrazad’s Tooth

  • Gretchen McCullough
  • Fiction
  • Out now
  • English English
  • 60 EGP
  • Diwan, Al Kotob Khan
reviewed by
Ahmed El Dahan
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Gretchen McCullough: Shahrazad’s Tooth

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.

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Three Stories From Cairo also by Gretchen McCullough, Taxi by Khaled Al Khamissi, I Want to Get Married!: One Wannabe Bride's Misadventures with Handsome Houdinis by Ghada Abdelal, Metro: A Story of Cairo by Magdy El Shafei.

Author Bio

Gretchen McCullough was raised in Harlingen, Texas. After graduating from Brown University in 1984, she taught in Egypt, Turkey and Japan. She earned her M.F.A. from the University of Alabama and was awarded a Teaching Fulbright to Syria 1997-1999. Stories and essays have appeared in The Texas Review, The Alaska Quarterly Review, Archipelago, National Public Radio, The Barcelona Review, Storysouth, Gowanus and Storyglossia. Recently, her translations with Mohamed Metwalli of his poetry were published in Banipal. Currently, she teaches writing in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo and has just finished a collection of short stories, set in Cairo - Shahrazad's Tooth.

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