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Lyrics Alley is the evocative story of an affluent Sudanese family shaken by the shifting powers in their country and the near-tragedy that threatens the legacy they've built for decades. Their fortune threatened by shifting powers in Sudan and their heir's debilitating accident, a powerful family under the leadership of Mahmoud Bey is torn between the traditional and mode Lyrics Alley is the evocative story of an affluent Sudanese family shaken by the shifting powers in their country and the near-tragedy that threatens the legacy they've built for decades. Their fortune threatened by shifting powers in Sudan and their heir's debilitating accident, a powerful family under the leadership of Mahmoud Bey is torn between the traditional and modern values of Mahmoud's two wives and his son's efforts to break with cultural limits.


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Lyrics Alley is the evocative story of an affluent Sudanese family shaken by the shifting powers in their country and the near-tragedy that threatens the legacy they've built for decades. Their fortune threatened by shifting powers in Sudan and their heir's debilitating accident, a powerful family under the leadership of Mahmoud Bey is torn between the traditional and mode Lyrics Alley is the evocative story of an affluent Sudanese family shaken by the shifting powers in their country and the near-tragedy that threatens the legacy they've built for decades. Their fortune threatened by shifting powers in Sudan and their heir's debilitating accident, a powerful family under the leadership of Mahmoud Bey is torn between the traditional and modern values of Mahmoud's two wives and his son's efforts to break with cultural limits.

30 review for Lyrics Alley

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kinga

    So this is another saga about a patriarchal family in exotic setting. Don't you love those? Publishers sure do - there is a new one every two weeks. 'Lyrics Alley' starts bizarrely with a family tree, even though there are only two generations on it - two brothers and their children. Who needs a tree? Please, I am a pro! I eat your tree for breakfast. I read Hundred Years of Solitude and got that under control and let me tell you there were about twelve generations, three hundred characters and a So this is another saga about a patriarchal family in exotic setting. Don't you love those? Publishers sure do - there is a new one every two weeks. 'Lyrics Alley' starts bizarrely with a family tree, even though there are only two generations on it - two brothers and their children. Who needs a tree? Please, I am a pro! I eat your tree for breakfast. I read Hundred Years of Solitude and got that under control and let me tell you there were about twelve generations, three hundred characters and all of them named Jose Arcadio and Aureliano. This book is not brilliant but it's correct. The story is engaging, I established emotional connection with the characters, I got as indignant as usual over the opression of women and learnt a few exotic sounding words like 'hoash' and 'saraya'. The main problem was that this book only scratched the surface and ended up being a little underwhelming. This was the first book I've read that had Sudan as its setting. The family drama was set against the backrop of Sudanese fight for independence and I hoped to learn more about the political turmoil of the era but sadly, it doesn't seem I will be able to hold a meaningful conversation about the history of Sudan anytime soon. Another lost opportunity, I think, was the interesting parallel of situation Nur has found himself in and the situation most Muslim women find themselves in. It was only alluded at in one paragraph and then seemingly Aboulela abandonded that idea. There was a certain role reversal at some point and I thought it could've been explored more as it was a very interesting concept and not really done often in your usual family sagas. On the other hand, comparisons between modern Egypt and backward Sudan and the constant juxtaposition of them was overdone at times. The strenght of the book was its love story which was described subtly and without mawkishness, and most importantly - authentically. I would say if you serendipitously come across 'Lyrics Alley', give it a go, but don't set out to look for it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sheila

    SPOILER ALERT……. There is something seductive about this book. It is not just the poetry of the books poet Nur, his absolute and pure love for his cousin Soraya which drives his every word and thought and which continues to move and inspire him even when these are all he can move, but more, for this is a book which starts very slowly then you suddenly find yourself immersed into its very real sense of story, of time, of place. The differences between Mahmoud’s two wives, younger second wife Nabil SPOILER ALERT……. There is something seductive about this book. It is not just the poetry of the books poet Nur, his absolute and pure love for his cousin Soraya which drives his every word and thought and which continues to move and inspire him even when these are all he can move, but more, for this is a book which starts very slowly then you suddenly find yourself immersed into its very real sense of story, of time, of place. The differences between Mahmoud’s two wives, younger second wife Nabilah, personifying the modern and older first Waheeba, the traditional, Egypt and the Sudan, Mahmoud’s courting of the young British bank manager and his wife to ensure business expansion loans to take the family business forward into the new Independent Sudan whilst continuing to run his family along very traditional lines. Everywhere in this book there are balancing acts, Nur’s love and Soraya’s reputation, Nassir’s worthlessness and his brotherly love, the goodness of his brother Ustaz Badr, Arabic school teacher, private tutor, husband, father and his bad cousin Shukry. I have a lasting image of him his new daughter in one arm, his increasingly senile father to whom he owes everything he is, on the other arm,, as they quite literally teeter up the stairs to their new apartment, his heart a mix of joy and sadness, his duty making him miss out on his wish of seeing the look on the face of his wife as she first enters their dream apartment. All the balances are tipped one way of the other by both the big and the small, by certain events, actions, or personal changes eg Nur’s accident, Ustaz Badr’s wrongful arrest, Waheeba’s circumcism of Nabilah’s daughter, Soraya getting permission to wear spectacles, Mahmoud’s eventual acceptance that Nur’s poetry should be popularised in radio songs, Nabilah seeing a different Soraya when she comes as a newly married woman to call on her in Cairo, Nur’s realisation that he would not have been the best husband for Soraya. Minor and major tipping points dotted randomly through the story alongside the changes happening to the Sudan itself as it breaks free from colonial rule, from Egyptian influence, and sets up its new government to stride forth in the world as a modern independent country just as Soraya does as a modern educated woman with modern, educated husband. I should add the book’s slow start may be a reflection more of my recent thriller reads than anything else. I thought there were some very fine passages in this book: her depiction of Nur’s situation and his frustration, despair, hopes and aspirations is not surprisingly very convincing and very moving portrayed as his story is based on that of her father’s cousin Sudan’s poet Hassan Awad Aboulela. (The author writes about this inspiration here) ; but also Badr’s faith especially its manifestation as he worships in the mosque as he senses himself in the spiritual world with the angels alongside the real world of the stuttering iman and feels revived, renewed and elated. I just loved the mix of emotion present as Badr’s old father won’t let go of hugging the donkey before entering the new flat – him and us realizing that this is probably his last contact with nature, his last day outside, that he will enter the new flat and never again come out.. Every one of the characters in Lyrics Alley is made real for the reader and in that sense it is a lovely family saga where everyone has their part to play in making up the tapestry which is the Abuzeid household, which is Sudan. . A thoroughly recommended read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    JenniferD

    Lyrics Alley has some very beautiful moments but is a disjointed novel that never really pulls it together by the end. It is a quick and compelling story but the reasons for being pulled into the novel - the setting, the tragedy the characters, wondering about the outcomes - end up being less than fully realized. I was left dissatisfied, unfortunately, yet I am open to reading more by this author. I wonder, though, given the setting and political climate of the time (Sudan & Egypt, 1951 & 1952) Lyrics Alley has some very beautiful moments but is a disjointed novel that never really pulls it together by the end. It is a quick and compelling story but the reasons for being pulled into the novel - the setting, the tragedy the characters, wondering about the outcomes - end up being less than fully realized. I was left dissatisfied, unfortunately, yet I am open to reading more by this author. I wonder, though, given the setting and political climate of the time (Sudan & Egypt, 1951 & 1952) if this disjointed feeling was created by the author on purpose?? But I just really can't be sure.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Akon

    Found the book problematic in its depiction of sudan - and in contrast to egypt- in particular the notion of a modern egypt vs backward sudan, and as played out in the depiction of mahmoud's wives and their children. For example, its a bit difficult to believe that female circumcision here is depicted as a purely Sudanese practice, especially considering that even today, Egypt has the highest number of women who are circumcised (and the practice is said to originate in Egypt)... but here its pur Found the book problematic in its depiction of sudan - and in contrast to egypt- in particular the notion of a modern egypt vs backward sudan, and as played out in the depiction of mahmoud's wives and their children. For example, its a bit difficult to believe that female circumcision here is depicted as a purely Sudanese practice, especially considering that even today, Egypt has the highest number of women who are circumcised (and the practice is said to originate in Egypt)... but here its purely Waheeba's Sudanese 'traditional' backwardness. This practice is almost non-existent in the South. Waheeba also has tribal scars, but we know not from whence they come. In fact, we barely know anything about her relationship with her husband- she is the first wife, but is merely a background from which to cast aspersions about Sudanese backwardness. Its set against the backdrop of Sudan's independence (1956), but the South (or rather, the African Sudan) barely warrants a mention. This is unbelievable considering the "southern problem- was a key issue and the reason civil war begun as soon as independence was signed. Neither are there any African characters.. apart from a few mentions of Nubians...in a sentence about slave trade, and a word or two about an African identity/culture seen in Sudanese bangles (?). I understand that this is not a historical fictional novel, neither does it set out to give a detailed historical context to the story ... but i think it identifies the key issue in Sudan today- the notion that the center (aka the Arab, in particular) is Sudan and the rest is considered the periphery, and that neither influences the other. I do think that it also does display Egyptians' attitudes toward the Sudan in general, especially the 'tribal' Sudan. Also.... i still don't know the attitude toward colonialists.. neither Egyptians nor Sudanese attitudes. Here they come across as benevolent patrons (whose departure might bring a collapse to progress). This seems to have been a society living in relative harmony with the notion of independence a nuisance to be shrugged off in order for the story to move along. . Now.. to the story. I found it somewhat interesting... i did like the depiction of quotidian Sudanese life (although these are somewhat seen as a negative). The story doesn't really go anywhere, (in my opinion). I would've loved to know what the men who visit Nur think about what is happening in their country (beyond poetry and music)- there must have amongst them people with opinions about the independence of Sudan, the changes happening in both Sudan and Egypt. They are merely there as background for Nur - not to really move the story. I would've liked to know how Soraya's experience at University affects her thinking... aka I would've loved to see more character development -no one really grows, here- neither do we really get a sense of who these people are, holistically -apart from Nur, I guess, although even his character did not engage me as much. I think if it wasn't for the fact that the setting is Sudan (i'm from the South), i probably would not have finished it. The poetry, I loved, the central love story was very touching.... But overall.... its ok, i wouldnt rush to recommend it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Reese

    Thoughts later. I am steadily making my way through Leila Aboulela's stories. Thoughts later. I am steadily making my way through Leila Aboulela's stories.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Calzean

    It was interesting to read about life in Sudan in the 1950s. The use of characters from Egypt was also interesting as it gave a comparison between these two neighbours, one who's modernisation and westernisation was further progressed (I'm not saying this is a good thing). Mahmoud is the patriarch who has built a successful trading company, puts a lot back into his country and is relatively modern in his thinking. His first wife is uneducated, illiterate and represents the old Sudan. His second y It was interesting to read about life in Sudan in the 1950s. The use of characters from Egypt was also interesting as it gave a comparison between these two neighbours, one who's modernisation and westernisation was further progressed (I'm not saying this is a good thing). Mahmoud is the patriarch who has built a successful trading company, puts a lot back into his country and is relatively modern in his thinking. His first wife is uneducated, illiterate and represents the old Sudan. His second younger Egyptian wife is educated and yearns for her old life. Mahmoud's various children and nieces provide some signs that things are changing. But there is still arranged marriages, awful girl circumcisions, women unable to be seen by strangers etc. It is the tutor Badr who provides the most interest as he is educated, wise but poor. His only dream is for an apartment with two rooms. But the book kind of meandered along, no great climax, some storylines closed while others remain open.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kyriakos Sorokkou

    AFRICAN BOOKS MARATHON BOOK: 5 TITLE: Lyrics Alley AUTHOR: Leila Aboulela COUNTRY: Sudan Another book that takes place in a country on the verge of independence from the British Empire. An Empire that is crumbling. We are in Sudan in the early 1950's and we see the story of the rich Abuzeid family. The story takes place in the Abuzeids' mansion in Omdurman, a city lying on the western banks of the River Nile, opposite the capital, Khartoum. It also takes place in Cairo, Alexandria, London, and a f AFRICAN BOOKS MARATHON BOOK: 5 TITLE: Lyrics Alley AUTHOR: Leila Aboulela COUNTRY: Sudan Another book that takes place in a country on the verge of independence from the British Empire. An Empire that is crumbling. We are in Sudan in the early 1950's and we see the story of the rich Abuzeid family. The story takes place in the Abuzeids' mansion in Omdurman, a city lying on the western banks of the River Nile, opposite the capital, Khartoum. It also takes place in Cairo, Alexandria, London, and a few areas in the vicinity of Omdurman and Khartoum. Mahmoud Abuzeid is married to two very different women. Waheeba: A Sudanese traditional woman, superstitious and an advocate of female circumcision. Nabilah: An Egyptian young modern woman that feels superior as an Egyptian towards her Sudanese husband's family. (Image: Daniel Pudles) Mahmoud has a brother (a horrible conservative macho man), Idris, who has 3 daughters. The 2nd daughter Fatma is married to Mahmoud's eldest son Nassir, a drunk, good for nothing man, incompetent for a heir. Idris' 3rd and younger daughter Soraya is betrothed to Mahmoud's younger son Nur. Nur is a brilliant young man. Polite, an idealist, a poet (something that faces disapproval from conservative members of the family), and he is going to study at Cambridge. He is the heir that Mahmoud was dreaming for his business empire. What follows is a spoiler, but it's on the back cover as well so, it's not entirely mine. But during a summer vacation in Alexandria Nur suffers a swimming accident that leaves him quadriplegic. Now he can't marry his beloved Soraya. She has to choose someone who's not a cripple. And of course Nur cannot be the heir of his father's business empire. But something else awakes in Nur. Something rekindled by his inability to move his body. Something in his mind. This might sound a straightforward usual story but it was a fast read and I actually felt compassion and empathy for many of the characters that were struggling with life. Nur: sees everything taken away from him: his future, his ability to walk, his beloved Soraya. . . Soraya: sees her dreams crumble and at the same time she also fights against tradition. She wants to study medicine, she has to wear glasses in order to pass the exams (something that her abominable father sees as a male characteristic), she has in other words a modern woman's ambitions. Ustaz Badr: an Egyptian teacher of Arabic, private tutor to Nur. We see his own tragic story struggling with two attachments. Bliss in one arm (new-born daughter) and his burden in the other (his elderly father). - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Nabilah: even though you tend to understand her modern objections to tradition, circumcision, submission of women and more, I wasn't able to like her since she was selfish, egotistic, and self-centred. She didn't give a shit for the (more serious) problems around her. She was not sadden when she heard about Nur's accident. She couldn't stand seeing him a cripple. She believed herself a superior since she was not Sudanese but Egyptian. She was possessive of her husband, children, &c. Who of these characters will have a happy ending? Who will have a tragic ending? And who will have a combination of the two, a bittersweet ending? It was a heart-rending story that I liked nevertheless, and I'll give it a 3.7 stars. Almost 4 stars. "Lyrics Alley was inspired by the life of the poet Hassan Awad Aboulela [and uncle of the authoress]. It is a work of fiction, filled with imaginary characters and situations and not intended as an accurate biography." You can see the complete list of my African Books here:

  8. 4 out of 5

    Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)

    I knew nothing of Sudan or its history and culture before reading this book. I inhaled it in 48 hrs, reading till midnight each night. Not even a "reader's headache" could make me put it down. That's how engaging Ms Aboulela's prose is. Set in the 1950s at a time of unrest in the entire region (independence/Suez crisis/etc). The story begins with the illness of the patriarch, Mahmoud. He apparently nearly slipped into a "diabetic coma" at some point and is spending weeks in bed as his family and I knew nothing of Sudan or its history and culture before reading this book. I inhaled it in 48 hrs, reading till midnight each night. Not even a "reader's headache" could make me put it down. That's how engaging Ms Aboulela's prose is. Set in the 1950s at a time of unrest in the entire region (independence/Suez crisis/etc). The story begins with the illness of the patriarch, Mahmoud. He apparently nearly slipped into a "diabetic coma" at some point and is spending weeks in bed as his family and associates gather round to lend him homage and support. Curiously, the illness that caused the near-coma never recurs, nor is there any reference to his having to change his lifestyle as a result. Ah, the joys of fiction. But then, larger-than-life business tycoons aren't like the rest of us, are they? Most of the characters, men as well as women, are essentially self-centred and manipulate those around them to get what they want, but then the same can be said in varying degrees of a large proportion of people the world over. It was not until I read the afterword that I discovered that the younger son, Nur, is actually meant to be the main character; however he is at the center of a large extended family, and all their stories are interwoven. Heavy topics such as infibulation and the different responses of the characters to one's life-altering disability are adressed, without the need to write "shock prose"--the matter itself is shocking enough. How the characters deal with the issues that most closely affect their lives held my attention throughout. The language of all five senses was skilfully employed to evoke place, time, the changing seasons. That is what gained the fourth star for me. The grammar and wording is a bit...odd...in spots (use of prepositions, confusing the word "forebearance" with "forebearness" which is not a word in English), which made me wonder if it was a translation. Apparently not; apparently it's just par for the curse of poor proofreading on the part of publishing houses these days. Unfortunately I found the end stinted; this is one of the few "historical" novels I've read that left me wanting more, particularly as Nur begins to explore the creative process. Phrases such as "days passed...time passed" were used to gloss over what could have been a vital part of the novel. The meaning of the title does not become apparent until very near the end, and I found the character of Nur curiously shadowy and undeveloped, for a person who was apparently meant to be the main thrust of the novel.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tumelo Moleleki

    A sad but compelling read. Characters who have both likeable and dismaying personality traits. It is based on the life of a real person but has been fictionalised. Sudan was dusty, hot but great to discover.

  10. 4 out of 5

    DubaiReader

    Well worth reading. I really enjoyed this novel, set in Sudan and Egypt in the 1950s. It covers a lot of ground, but the story at the centre is the true relationship between Sudan's famous poet and songwriter, Hassan Awad Aboulela and his childhood sweetheart, represented as Nur and Soraya in the novel. They were cousins, betrothed from a young age, until a serious accident changed everything. Hassan Awad Aboulela was Leila Aboulela's uncle and although he died before she was born, he remained qui Well worth reading. I really enjoyed this novel, set in Sudan and Egypt in the 1950s. It covers a lot of ground, but the story at the centre is the true relationship between Sudan's famous poet and songwriter, Hassan Awad Aboulela and his childhood sweetheart, represented as Nur and Soraya in the novel. They were cousins, betrothed from a young age, until a serious accident changed everything. Hassan Awad Aboulela was Leila Aboulela's uncle and although he died before she was born, he remained quite a family tradition. The remaining characters are fictional, two very different wives for Nur's father - traditional, Waheeba from Sudan and fashionable Nabilah from Egypt. There is a lot of animosity between these two women, which comes to a head through Nabilah's daughter. On the male side of the family is the patriach, Mahmoud, a forceful businessman, and his other son, Nassir, and Mahmoud's brother and business partner, Idris. There is also an interesting character, Ustaz Badr, a devout Muslim, who becomes Nur's tutor and advisor, plus Ustaz Badr's troublesome brother. With this cast of thousands, I found the family tree at the beginning was a great help. There is an interesting diversion into the opinions on women being allowed to wear spectacles, which was hugely frowned on by some members of such circles and all of these events are woven into the politics of a Sudan ruled by both Egypt and Britain, as it starts to exert its independance. This was a book group read and made for an interesting evening's discussion.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tamara Agha-Jaffar

    Through its intersecting story lines, Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela portrays the Abuzeid dynasty in 1950s Sudan. Set against the backdrop of turbulent political times, Mahmoud Bey, the patriarch, navigates between clashing forces both in his public and private life: the indigenous population’s collision with British rule as it strives for independence; Waheeba, his Sudanese first wife steeped in the traditions of her culture versus Nabilah, his second wife, a younger and more progressive Egypti Through its intersecting story lines, Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela portrays the Abuzeid dynasty in 1950s Sudan. Set against the backdrop of turbulent political times, Mahmoud Bey, the patriarch, navigates between clashing forces both in his public and private life: the indigenous population’s collision with British rule as it strives for independence; Waheeba, his Sudanese first wife steeped in the traditions of her culture versus Nabilah, his second wife, a younger and more progressive Egyptian woman; his brother and business partner, Idris, who displays a staunch opposition to his daughter’s intellectual growth; his oldest son, Nassir, who has shown little aptitude for carrying on the family business while his second son and more promising heir, Nur, is unable to fulfill the promise because a swimming accident renders him paralyzed from the neck down. Nur eventually fulfills his dream of becoming a successful poet, his character inspired by the life of the author’s uncle Hassan Awad Aboulela. This is a novel about transitions—about the growing pains involved in moving from a traditional culture to one that is more progressive, especially as it pertains to the lives of young girls and women. It is also about love: Nur’s love for his cousin Soraya and his ultimate recognition he has to release her to live her life; Waheeba’s unconditional love for her son, Nur; the devout Ustaz Badr’s love for his family; Nassir’s love for his brother; and Mahmoud Bey trying to do right by everyone. The characters are movingly portrayed, especially Nur’s frustration as he struggles to come to terms with his disability and his distaste at being totally dependent on others for his personal hygiene; the gentle compassion with which Ustaz Badr treats his father; and Soraya’s struggle as she tries to define herself and her role in the new Sudan. Leila Aboulela’s development as a novelist is evident as Lyrics Alley is not as strong as her later novel, The Kindness of Enemies. It is, nevertheless, an engaging read and highly recommended.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    Starting in Sudan, shifting to Egypt and then back again, this is the story of the family of an astute Sudanese businessmen, his two squabbling wives - one conservative Sudanese, the other a much more liberal Egyptian - and his two eldest sons who are married and engaged respectively to the daughters of his much more traditional brother. It highlights the changing political and cultural climate of 1950 when Egypt and Sudan were politically joined at the hip with a ruling monarchy in Egypt and wh Starting in Sudan, shifting to Egypt and then back again, this is the story of the family of an astute Sudanese businessmen, his two squabbling wives - one conservative Sudanese, the other a much more liberal Egyptian - and his two eldest sons who are married and engaged respectively to the daughters of his much more traditional brother. It highlights the changing political and cultural climate of 1950 when Egypt and Sudan were politically joined at the hip with a ruling monarchy in Egypt and when there were still plans for the creation of an African superstate combining both countries. It is really well written with several intersecting convincing story lines involving different family members and their close associates. Two things out of many stood out for me. First the descriptions of one characters state of mind as he has to face up to a major disability and his complete and utter dependence. His feelings of helplessness and his distaste at having to be looked after by others however good and kind they are, are beautifully described, not only with regard to the major stuff that we could all imagine, but especially in the really annoying little things like not being able to manage a final comb of your own hair or make that last personal adjustment to your clothes before facing the world. Then there were the scenes depicted in the outdoor mosque where the rhythmic chanting of prayers during Ramadan was just fascinating. It gave a small insight into the allure of Islam and the power of communal faith to one outside that religion, even for a long standing atheist like me. The poetry - the lyrics of the title - left me a bit cold. I'm not a big fan generally but this stuff in translation seemed pretty mediocre. That aside a great read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mohannad El-tayeb

    Leila Aboulela 's Novel is a wonderful piece, it takes you in a journey to the Sudan in the period before and during independence, it showed many customs, traditions, real places that were at that time. It also went to Egypt to show the contrast between these two countries at that time, and to show also similarities and bonds that were exited between these countries. The Novel is based on a true story which is Hassan Awad Aboulela's (Leila Aboulela's Uncle) life story, a famous poet from the 1950 Leila Aboulela 's Novel is a wonderful piece, it takes you in a journey to the Sudan in the period before and during independence, it showed many customs, traditions, real places that were at that time. It also went to Egypt to show the contrast between these two countries at that time, and to show also similarities and bonds that were exited between these countries. The Novel is based on a true story which is Hassan Awad Aboulela's (Leila Aboulela's Uncle) life story, a famous poet from the 1950's, he's family was one of the biggest and richest families at that time, some of the characters are real and some were added (as the author's said) just to add more fiction to the novel. In my personal view, I loved the novel, for it took me to a time that I've only heard about. It has introduced me to people that were significant in the early times of my beloved country Sudan; and last but not least I could chat with my mom about Hassan Aboulela and what did she know about him, she ended up showing me pictures of him and we listened to a song if his. She got interested when she knew that there is a novel that talks about him, and she definitely wants to read it. Characters were great, and the love story where presented in a wonderful way, I still have some critical points, but the overall was above than just good. I encourage every sudanese & every one who is interested to know the history of the early days of Sudan, specially the culture, tradition and the arts, to read this novel.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ming

    This is the third of Aboulela's books that I've read recently. And each is unique unto itself; she is innovative and original at crafting stories. Her writing style reflects much grace and clarity. I am grateful for her ability to depict multiple and opposing perspectives with a confidence and empathetic tone. I will definitely read more of her books. This book provided me a perspective on Sudan in the 1950's and its relationship with neighboring Egypt and with the British who were in Sudan (and This is the third of Aboulela's books that I've read recently. And each is unique unto itself; she is innovative and original at crafting stories. Her writing style reflects much grace and clarity. I am grateful for her ability to depict multiple and opposing perspectives with a confidence and empathetic tone. I will definitely read more of her books. This book provided me a perspective on Sudan in the 1950's and its relationship with neighboring Egypt and with the British who were in Sudan (and in Egypt) as colonizers or in a colonizer role. This is yet another example of how colonial impact leads to great social unrest, e.g., the massacre in Darfur.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    A lukewarm like. 3.0, not 3.1. A number of themes at work - political history of Sudan and Egypt, as reflected in the storyline of the patriarch; culture-peeking (man with two wives, patriarch as absolute ruler, clash of traditional vs modern Africa); family dynamics with their usual soap opera type baggage; early dawning of the emergence of women's rights. So many threads, but none really strongly developed. The writing is serviceable but not notable - "meets expectations" I guess. Too much on A lukewarm like. 3.0, not 3.1. A number of themes at work - political history of Sudan and Egypt, as reflected in the storyline of the patriarch; culture-peeking (man with two wives, patriarch as absolute ruler, clash of traditional vs modern Africa); family dynamics with their usual soap opera type baggage; early dawning of the emergence of women's rights. So many threads, but none really strongly developed. The writing is serviceable but not notable - "meets expectations" I guess. Too much on the side of chick-lit instead of world-lit. An easy read though.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rachelle

    Was able to see Leila Aboulela at the Writer's Center in Maryland. Amazing. I really enjoyed this book! So much of the culture rang true - going to Alexandria to the beach. Learned so much about the history between Sudan and Egypt. Was able to see Leila Aboulela at the Writer's Center in Maryland. Amazing. I really enjoyed this book! So much of the culture rang true - going to Alexandria to the beach. Learned so much about the history between Sudan and Egypt.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    http://www.maryokekereviews.blogspot.... http://www.maryokekereviews.blogspot....

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gerry

    4-1/2 stars for this beautiful novel that is part historical fiction, part family saga, and part meditation on love and loss, good and evil. I found Aboulela's portrayal of Sudan in the 1950's fascinating, as this is a country about which I knew virtually nothing. Her characters were well-developed, complex and realistic, and their circumstances and stories compelling. Mahmoud's two wives personified the contrasts between Sudanese and Egyptian cultures and lifestyles -- though both are described 4-1/2 stars for this beautiful novel that is part historical fiction, part family saga, and part meditation on love and loss, good and evil. I found Aboulela's portrayal of Sudan in the 1950's fascinating, as this is a country about which I knew virtually nothing. Her characters were well-developed, complex and realistic, and their circumstances and stories compelling. Mahmoud's two wives personified the contrasts between Sudanese and Egyptian cultures and lifestyles -- though both are described from the perspective of the wealthy and pro-Western world -- and the teacher ("effendi") Badr added an additional glimpse into the influence of Islam on both nations. The Sudanese struggle for independence formed a backdrop for this story of people young and old torn between tradition and modernity.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Wim

    After Translator, this is my second book by Leila Aboulela and I liked this one much better. It is the saga of a high class Sudanese family in the 1950s, at a crucial time for an emancipating population and their country on its way to independence, its links to the UK and to Egypt. But Lyrics Alley is also a beautiful and tragic love story. Aboulela tells the story from the viewpoint of several protagonists, young and older, conservative and rather progressive, and depicts how modernity and tradi After Translator, this is my second book by Leila Aboulela and I liked this one much better. It is the saga of a high class Sudanese family in the 1950s, at a crucial time for an emancipating population and their country on its way to independence, its links to the UK and to Egypt. But Lyrics Alley is also a beautiful and tragic love story. Aboulela tells the story from the viewpoint of several protagonists, young and older, conservative and rather progressive, and depicts how modernity and tradition, how mentalities are changing and how hope grows for a better future, especially for Sudanese girls and women.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Orla Hegarty

    This book is set in a time and place that I had near zero knowledge of. I was drawn to all of the characters in this novel. The FGM scenes made me want to scream but alas, such is patriarchy. Kudos to this author for such elegant prose and compelling narrative.

  21. 5 out of 5

    eilasoles

    People - particularly americans - like to talk on the 'Oppression of Muslim Women.' Lyrics alley touches upon the practice of clitoridectomy. But I didn't come away believing that this happened because of Islamic culture. Words like 'patriarchal' drip very easily off our tongues and I think we need to think twice. I'm not making a case for cultural relativism - it's far too simplistic and intellectually lazy and has always felt a bit unsound to me (if there are no absolute rules, how does one ge People - particularly americans - like to talk on the 'Oppression of Muslim Women.' Lyrics alley touches upon the practice of clitoridectomy. But I didn't come away believing that this happened because of Islamic culture. Words like 'patriarchal' drip very easily off our tongues and I think we need to think twice. I'm not making a case for cultural relativism - it's far too simplistic and intellectually lazy and has always felt a bit unsound to me (if there are no absolute rules, how does one get away with claiming reserve-your-judgment as a rule for behaviour?). What I want to think about instead is how power relations are constituted uniquely, historically, in each context. What this book illustrates is that your idea of a 'woman' - a patriarchally-oppressed woman - can never be taken as a given at the outset. One theme in the book is the tension between Egyptian/modern/westernized and Sudanese/tribal/primitive - these are the two poles, and this conflict finds its expression in the character of Mahmoud Abuzeid and manifests in his two marriages: Waheeba is illiterate, homely, and Sudanese; while Nabilah is Egyptian, 'cultured' and liberal. The breaking point comes when Waheeba - resentful and angry at the way Nabilah disdains her Sudanese home - has the clitoridectomy operation performed on Nabilah's small daughter, without Nabilah's permission. This was the strongest part of the book, it was so visceral - Nabilah's hurt and upset, the description of how the girls were circumcised, their legs forced apart. It hurt me, but it also can't be written off as - oh, it's a patriarchal culture, Islam is patriarchal, etc etc. Firstly, that's a stupid thing to say. Islam is not monolithic and homogenous and entirely constitutive of any culture - by linking patriarchy to Islam one is collapsing the distinction between all these different cultures. Secondly, doesn't it feel alien and strangely dissonant to apply a set of norms in such a manner? It does to me. Feminism is often reduced to 'free choice for women' or 'freedom' and this has unarguably originated in the west at a specific point in time. Given the present discourse of a west/Islam binary it is rather difficult to remember that it was only in 1965 that French wives got the right to work without their husband's permission. If this doesn't isolate the cultural and temporal specificity of these norms, I don't know what does. Applying them wholesale to contexts where power relations of another kind - colonialism and imperialism, for instance - existed ought to be done with some caution. Subjectivities are constituted in different ways. Aboulela's book is beautiful in that it doesn't allow this point to be lost. The clitoridectomy in the book is clearly and obviously irreducable to male supremacy or Islamic patriarchy or some such: Mahmoud Abuzeid had expressly forbidden the practice in his household, just as the colonial British had banned it - but Waheeba chooses to stick with tradition, with a Sudanese identity. Waheeba, as the unfashionable, illiterate wife despised by her husband is the target of pity and disgust for liberal sensibilities - Nabilah is convinced that Waheeba envies her and "with good reason" and Nabilah's mother tells us her Waheeba is not even "worth her fingernail." But Waheeba has a different sort of autonomy - in the management of her hoash (courtyard) and her making of household decisions. The point is, women's oppression is complicated here - is it oppressive that Waheeba was circumcised, or is it oppressive if Mahmoud were to divorce her and throw her out and Nabilah's indignated bidding? Mahmoud doesn't and Nabilah returns to Imdurman in a compromise, but the point is that Waheeba and Nabilah can't be slotted in as the 'oppressed woman' and 'liberated woman,' respectively. This review is not a review as such but instead a plea to make judgments more gently and more carefully, and keep them firmly grounded in historically specific contexts. I hate the way a priori judgments are made about Islam and patriarchy and oppression and certain cultural practices. The discourse and rhetoric surrounding the 'War on terror' is the most recent expression of imperialism and racism. I'm not muslim, but I'm brown and it grates. To tie this up in some semblance of a review I'll say that Aboulela's characters were intriguing and nuanced. There have been complaints about Aboulela ignoring a larger turbulence in Sudanese politics in the fifties. I don't agree. If one scene is set in the hoash or the saraya - the domestic, the very next is set in a business office with speculations over commerce and political influence. It was this constant change that kept me so attenuated to the novel. And as Austen once wrote to Edward Austen, "What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited sketches, full of variety and glow? How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour?" I think Aboulela's book is a beautiful little bit of ivory, and no less political for its focus on the family and the domestic.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Norain

    If I were to judge this book based on literary value, the most I would give was three stars. The style of writing was simple and light-hearted, but too simple and easygoing to be called great. Good maybe, but not great. For non-English speakers who want to try reading English fiction, you can start from this. And, oh yeah, the editor deserve a good spanking for letting some obvious mistakes went unnoticed (but just a spanking; the only editor that should be slapped or even killed is Hilal Asyraf If I were to judge this book based on literary value, the most I would give was three stars. The style of writing was simple and light-hearted, but too simple and easygoing to be called great. Good maybe, but not great. For non-English speakers who want to try reading English fiction, you can start from this. And, oh yeah, the editor deserve a good spanking for letting some obvious mistakes went unnoticed (but just a spanking; the only editor that should be slapped or even killed is Hilal Asyraf's). The story was written based on the real life story of the writer’s uncle – a young man with a bright future whose whole body saved his head, neck and elbows was paralysed after he met an accident. The event took place in 1948 but the writer pushed back to 1955 (If I was not mistaken) to make the story in line with the independence of Sudan. A poor attempt I had to say, very far from Khalid Housseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. So why four stars? Well, they are for the messages carried by this book. The whole Abuzeid family were only Muslims by name – they drank wine, went to watch belly-dances, swindled money – but the writer was clever in hinting that that was not how Muslims really supposed to act: she created a character called Ustaz Badr, a poor teacher from Egypt who had to go through a lot of hardships but continued to live according to the Quran in the best way possible. Ustaz Badr was not perfect, for some times his temper did get the better of him, but the way he reminded himself about his mistakes and explained why God caused misery was very motivational. Non-Muslim readers might found Ustaz Badr’s ‘philosophy’ rather hard to comprehend though, but as Muslim, he brought tears to my eyes. [In other words, the four stars were for Badr.]

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    It seems that I hardly ever read books written in English and when I do, it's so easy to read that it's like falling off a chair. When I started this one, I thought it was too easy and too happy and flowed too quickly and I was suspicious of it. But maybe that was just the ease of reading it and that yes, in the beginning of the book, all was easy and happy, but life changes and it's not happily ever after for everyone, even if they don't exactly live a hard life. Lyrics Alley is set in Sudan but It seems that I hardly ever read books written in English and when I do, it's so easy to read that it's like falling off a chair. When I started this one, I thought it was too easy and too happy and flowed too quickly and I was suspicious of it. But maybe that was just the ease of reading it and that yes, in the beginning of the book, all was easy and happy, but life changes and it's not happily ever after for everyone, even if they don't exactly live a hard life. Lyrics Alley is set in Sudan but sometimes in Egypt, Cairo and Alexandria. It's the end of British rule in Sudan, the contrasts of old and modern, traditional and westernized are described in a way that shows their difference but balanced, not as either one being good or bad. It's a story of a family and their lives as political changes take place: the older generation with multiple wives and authoritarian fathers; the younger generation wanting education for all and modern lives. I'd say them most intense part for me was what Waheeba, the traditional wife of Mahmoud, did to the daughter of Nabileh, the modern second wife. I can't think that Nabileh could have done anything but what she did, leave Sudan in a fury. But by the end of the book, my heart was squeezing and my eyes tearing, because I was pleased that in the end, Nabileh makes the decision she does. Though the book was a little too upbeat for me with my usual distrust of stories of happy lives, it was more substantial than I expected and I ended up liking it (very much). It also awakened my interest in Egypt and the Sudan and I appreciated the glimpse of a part of the world I haven't yet seen.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Katarzyna

    It's a nice saga about big arabian family, who by marriage joins traditions of two countries – Sudan and Egypt. But it doesn't mean calm coexistence, rather conflict beetwen two worlds – one full of traditions and rites and second one, more westernized. The writer from the muslim point of view shows us which values should win and which finally win. Interesting especially for our western world which very often sinks in chaos. The book is full of arabian atmosphere, we can really smell an air, dry It's a nice saga about big arabian family, who by marriage joins traditions of two countries – Sudan and Egypt. But it doesn't mean calm coexistence, rather conflict beetwen two worlds – one full of traditions and rites and second one, more westernized. The writer from the muslim point of view shows us which values should win and which finally win. Interesting especially for our western world which very often sinks in chaos. The book is full of arabian atmosphere, we can really smell an air, dry soil, desert wind, smoke and spices. In the book we can follow many characters and plots. In my opinion writer doesn't lead them to solution. For me plots are evidently cut too early. This sometimes leaves readers with disappointment and feelings that their expectations aren't fullfilled. And it is a disadvantage of this book. It's not a perfect written book, but I appreciate Leila Aboulela for courage to write from position which doesn't cross her faith and tradition. Contemporary writers sometimes force themselves to be liberated and modern and forget about their cultural and social background and heritage.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rosanna Amour-amour

    So you have to know a little about the Arabic/Muslim world to get this! Even as a religious studies graduate I had to google a few Arabic terms! It started off as a standard story about patriarchal oppression and though interesting it was a little slow. As soon as it hits 100pages though the story changes and it's making me want to read it more Hmm just finished it. It got very sappy and cliched with the modern wife vs patriarchal Sudan. I was looking to learn a bit about Sudan and Egypt in this So you have to know a little about the Arabic/Muslim world to get this! Even as a religious studies graduate I had to google a few Arabic terms! It started off as a standard story about patriarchal oppression and though interesting it was a little slow. As soon as it hits 100pages though the story changes and it's making me want to read it more Hmm just finished it. It got very sappy and cliched with the modern wife vs patriarchal Sudan. I was looking to learn a bit about Sudan and Egypt in this book but didn't get any of that. It just made the Sudanese seem backward and ignorant. I didn't really like any of the characters, I normally cry at the slightest of sad events but the deaths didn't bother me and Nur was so annoying and sappy towards the end. The bombshell that his friend was marrying Soryana was delivered so poorly that I barely realised it happened. The only character I felt any emotion for was Badr's elderly dad.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Edina Truth-Jones

    Found the juxtapositions between Sudan and Egypt, tradition and advancement, pain and love to be extremely well persuaded through out the whole story. Totally engrossed in all the characters lives, it took me a while to acquaint with, but found everybody worthy of my attention. I will not fail to mention the author's ability to invoke the human in me, the absolute empathy with some and rage with others. I hope all that read this pay close attention to ALL traditions, as some are perpetrated to b Found the juxtapositions between Sudan and Egypt, tradition and advancement, pain and love to be extremely well persuaded through out the whole story. Totally engrossed in all the characters lives, it took me a while to acquaint with, but found everybody worthy of my attention. I will not fail to mention the author's ability to invoke the human in me, the absolute empathy with some and rage with others. I hope all that read this pay close attention to ALL traditions, as some are perpetrated to be of heavier burden then others. However, they all are, just that, traditions. Whether they are modern or tribal, they do NOT belong in a muslim's life.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Raidene

    I may have given this book 4 stars if I hadn't read that some reviewers were comparing the author to the highly esteemed Egyptian novelist and Nobel Prize winner, Naguib Mahfouz. Mahfouz's monumental work, The Cairo Trilogy, is much deeper in scope and breadth than Aboulela's story, written over many years. But, both authors represent the much needed Arabic voice in contemporary literature and offer similar themes of domestic and famly life in male dominated cultures(Egypt and Sudan). Aboulela do I may have given this book 4 stars if I hadn't read that some reviewers were comparing the author to the highly esteemed Egyptian novelist and Nobel Prize winner, Naguib Mahfouz. Mahfouz's monumental work, The Cairo Trilogy, is much deeper in scope and breadth than Aboulela's story, written over many years. But, both authors represent the much needed Arabic voice in contemporary literature and offer similar themes of domestic and famly life in male dominated cultures(Egypt and Sudan). Aboulela does tell the tale of love and loss convincingly but she still has a way to go before she enters the same literary landscape and brilliance as Mahfouz.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tagwa Warrag

    A wonderful, breathtaking book that would take you to Sudan and Umdurman 60 years back. And how beautiful time it was. No one would have illustrated it this way. And since it was based on a true story, I went searching for the poems and songs mentioned on the book, and asked Baba about the streets, cafés and places. In the middle of reading this book I had dreams about Soraya, Nur ... Blury dreams ... Nur is a very beautiful person. I wished that I had a cousin like Nur. I was so attached to him, A wonderful, breathtaking book that would take you to Sudan and Umdurman 60 years back. And how beautiful time it was. No one would have illustrated it this way. And since it was based on a true story, I went searching for the poems and songs mentioned on the book, and asked Baba about the streets, cafés and places. In the middle of reading this book I had dreams about Soraya, Nur ... Blury dreams ... Nur is a very beautiful person. I wished that I had a cousin like Nur. I was so attached to him, and his grief and loss was my grief. It is absolutely on the top my favorite favorite books :-)

  29. 4 out of 5

    Maha

    Nice book but... The story doesn't proceed with the same momentum it started with. The second half of the book becomes a bit boring. There is a lot of repetition and it feels that different characters are lecturing us about their lives and about the changes the country was going through. Although there were lots of detail about life in Sudan and Egypt, it was clear that the author was describing what she didn't see or experience. It wasn't very authentic. Nice book but... The story doesn't proceed with the same momentum it started with. The second half of the book becomes a bit boring. There is a lot of repetition and it feels that different characters are lecturing us about their lives and about the changes the country was going through. Although there were lots of detail about life in Sudan and Egypt, it was clear that the author was describing what she didn't see or experience. It wasn't very authentic.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Edita

    "How different other people are from him! They live in the real world, banal and industrious, while he skids the surface of pain and flutters against sadness. Beauty is his friend; loss is his friend. His is the pleasurable company of writing poems and making songs. He has fewer inhibitions than they do; less time, less space." "How different other people are from him! They live in the real world, banal and industrious, while he skids the surface of pain and flutters against sadness. Beauty is his friend; loss is his friend. His is the pleasurable company of writing poems and making songs. He has fewer inhibitions than they do; less time, less space."

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