One Year in Qena is an intelligent, humorous, and delightful journal whose chapters are paced according to the Coptic calendar used to calculate agricultural seasons in Egypt. For a year, the reader is thrown together with the 13 year old urban writer into a world ruled by the seasons and the mindset of an agricultural society. Our protagonist joins his family for a year in Qena to care for his ageing grandmother, fully equipped with his anti-boredom kit that he relies on to avoid engaging with his surroundings. He first collides with them by trying to cleverly find solutions to the people's problems, but is quickly humbled by the understanding that they have dealt with every contingency before and that the modern solutions they have sometimes shunned do not come from stubborn ignorance but from a deeper understanding of the nature of their problems. From awkward collision to happy collusion, the boy learns to find ways to engage with the agricultural, social, culinary and cultural life of this Upper Egyptian village as he tries to make friends, prove his worth to his family, stay connected with Cairo and ultimately grow up.
Yasser Gueissa's sleek line drawings discreetly illustrate concepts urban children may not be familiar such as the adobe cemeteries of Upper Egypt, the hibiscus flower, and irrigation equipment. The illustrations culminate into the spectacular 'Mulid' festivity scenes towards the end of the book.
This charming story is a crossover book to be experienced in all sorts of combinations; read with small children, read by young readers, or even adults nostalgic for an Upper Egypt they wish they knew better.
Reviewed by Yasmine Motawy
Sana fi Qina (One Year in Qena)
Author: Hadil Ghoneim
Illustrator: Yasser Gueissa
Cairo: Al-Balsam Publishing House, 2014
65pp (YA book, 5-99)
Shortlisted for the 2014 Etisalat Award for Arabic Children's Literature, Young Adult Book of the Year Category
REVIEWS OF EGYPTIAN CHILDREN'S & YA BOOKS
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