Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Lyrics Alley, Leila Aboulela: A Bit like Eastenders. But in Sudan

Lyrics Alley follows the tragedies of the Abuzeid family and slightly randomly the tutor of their kids. So now I know that Abuzeid is just a family name and feel a bit daft after my post down there. But on with the review!

It's set in the 1950s offering plenty of background tension with the political situation between Sudan, Egypt and Britain. But these events stays in the background throughout the book, never having an influence on the characters.

The book weaves the stories of four* main characters, Mahmoud Abuzeid the patriarch of the family and business, his middle son Nur, Nur's cousin Soraya and Nur's tutor Ustaz Badr. At the beginning of the story they're all living the dream. Nur and Soraya are in love and destined to get married, Ustaz Badr has lots of private tutorial work as well as his job at the school and Mahmoud Abuzeid has built a tower block. Ok, Mahmoud isn't living the dream but he seems pretty chuffed with himself and the tower block.

Yay! Everyone is happy.

But no. I have read the back of the book. I know something bad happens.

Nur takes a dive off a cliff into the sea and ends up breaking his back. This ruins pretty much the lives of everyone. After this it seems to be tragedy after tragedy after tragedy. At the end of each chapter I sang the Eastenders cliffhanger music (DUH! Duh du-du dododo!). Some of the misfortunes seem really random.

For instance Ustaz Badr's cousin turns up. Ustaz doesn't like or trust him. So he gets him a job with his most prized client Mahmoud Abuzied. Ustaz's cousin robs one of Mahmoud's wives of her gold. The cousin disappears, but first he takes the gold back to Ustaz's house which consists of one room and an outside porchy bit. He smuggles the gold past Ustaz's wife and children and hides it in the single room. How does he do this with out getting noticed?! Why does he hide the gold somewhere that will obviously be searched?! All this leads to someone getting arrested, guess who? The whole situation seems to be forced so that Ustaz ends up in a tough spot.

Then things get better for everyone! Ustaz is released (if you didn't guess that he was arrested shame on you!). Mahmoud's tower block is great, Soroya gets to cut her hair! Nur realises that his accident has given him a chance to lead a life he wouldn't have been able to before.

Yay!

Well not really as I just don't feel that the characters drive the events. Things happen and they think and talk about the events and then other things happen which they think and talk about. No one acts! Ustaz's release from prison isn't down to his cousin handing himself in. It isn't down to Nur or Mahmoud  intervening on his behalf. He's just let go and it annoys me that it happens like that.

All this isn't to say the book isn't enjoyable to read. It is. But if someone had stolen it off me halfway through reading it I wouldn't have rushed out to buy another copy. It does offer some interesting insight into the difference between Sudanese and Egyptian life, prejudices of the time and now I have a better idea of what female circumcision is (Bonus!).

The story just seems to be a bit vague. I think this probably means it's a girl's book. Hopefully Lauren will confirm this or point out all the bits I didn't understand.

I've got no idea why it's called Lyrics Alley.

cheers,

Mark

Lyrics Alley is out in December and currently available for preorder.

*All right, there are up to 10 main characters but I can't be bothered to tell you about the rest. Most of them are dull.