Thursday, March 1, 2012

Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery

Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery by Bahaa’ Taher has the array of expected elements in a novel that takes places in Upper Egypt in the early to mid-twentieth century. There is the narrator, telling the story as an adult with the required air of nostalgia for a lost way of village life. The narrator’s father is the village elder, preaches at the mosque, and is held in high esteem by all.  The Coptic monks at the nearby monastery are revered by everyone, including Muslims.  Everything is in delicate, even loving harmony.

When a blood feud threatens to destroy the village’s sense of order, the murderer takes refuge in the Coptic monastery, which is considered a sanctuary by all.  And around these minute actions, the fate of modern Egypt is being decided, and a way of life is dying forever. 

Taher’s novel makes the expected moves, but with his fresh voice and delicate eye for detail, there is still a remarkable amount of the unexpected in what could have been a very expected novel.

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