Author Tags: Fiction, Kidlit & Young Adult
Karim Alrawi of Vancouver was in Tahir Square in January to support the pro-democracy uprising in his native land. In a room overlooking the square in Cairo, with two million pro-democracy demonstrators below, Alrawi had a bird’s-eye-view as government thugs threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at protestors who sheltered behind barricades of iron sheeting.
Protestors erected a tent city within Tahrir Square until the dictator Hosni Mubarak finally resigned. During three weeks of protests, performers maintained a carnival-like atmosphere to maintain morale. Teams of young people cleaned the square daily. As protestors were killed, posters were made of the martyrs and hung from buildings and lampposts.
Alrawi was in Cairo putting the finishing touches on his new children’s book, The Mouse Who Saved Egypt (Tradewind $16.95), illustrated by Bee Willey. It’s a teaching tale of kindness, showing how even a small creature can be heroic as a mouse saves ancient Egypt in an unexpected way.
His first novel, Book of Sands: A Novel of the Arab Uprising (Harper Avenue 2015) is set amid the upheaval of the Arab Spring in 2011. It is not only about social and political revolution but also about living honestly and with grace during times of chaos. Book of Sands won the inaugural HarperCollins/UBC prize for Best New Fiction.
Born-and-raised in Alexandria, Alrawi lived in England where he was writer-in-residence at the Royal Court Theatre and the Theatre Royal Stratford East. He has also worked as writer-in-residence at Meadow Brook Theatre in the U.S. He has written more than 30 professionally produced plays. He currently supervises international aid and development programs in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Alrawi completed an MFA at UBC.
The Mouse Who Saved Egypt (Tradewind $16.95) 978-1-896580-79-1
Book of Sands: A Novel of the Arab Uprising (Harper Avenue 2015) $29.99 978-1-44343-445-4
Book of Sands by Karim Alrawi (HarperAvenue $29.99)
from BCBW (Autumn 2016)
Review by James Paley
Karim alrawi’s Book of Sands revisits the protests and the demonstrations that erupted in Cairo that led to the ousting of Hosni Mubarak.
Alrawi, now a Vancouverite, was born in Alexandria, Egypt but his descriptions of the lingering acrid smell of tear gas can only mean he has been inspired by events at Tahrir Square.
In Book of Sands we meet Tarek, a puppeteer, who is trying to keep his family together.
The protests are frequently mentioned, but the novel’s focus is always on the immediate entanglements of family and obligation.
Tarek only visits Tahrir Square, the central protest location, once for less than one hour, searching for a friend’s son, but it turns out to be his undoing.
Tarek must flee the city as the political struggle for democracy fades to white noise.
Tarek tells his daughter fables which, unbeknownst to her, are based on real events, in the real world. We never know the extent to which Tarek has embellished his tales.
Gradually we learn that the birth of his daughter and meeting his wife—events that occurred in that order—would not have happened without his youthful dissonance and rebellion.
Tarek’s personal struggle never gets grandiose or analogous to the fighters in the city square. He simply wants survival.
Some characters in Book of Sands grip God too tight, such as his brother-in-law, Omar; others favour science and rationalism.
Tarek was originally a mathematician, but after having been wrongfully imprisoned for attending a protest, he has switched to being a puppeteer, chiefly in order to cement the bonds of love with his daughter, Neda.
Halfway through the novel, Neda wakes from a nightmare to see swarms of birds flying out of the mouths of mourners.
Similarly, while drinking arak and smoking bango, Corporal Aboud hallucinates while looking at a fire. The flames and smoke coalesce into hyenas. The pack of hyenas proceed to obliterate an entire household.
We never learn whether these fantastic events were imagined or experienced.
Every setting in book of sands carries the fresh imprint of violence. The novel succeeds in capturing the beauty and violence of a whole movement in one family’s story. You fear for these people’s safety, yet you believe in their ability to succeed.
Alrawi has also written for BBC radio. 978-1-44343-445-4
James Paley is a Douglas College student in Professional Communication.