Alternate titles should be “The History Book you Always Wish Existed” or “Falling in Love with Egypt in 12 Chapters.”
This book, much like oncologist-turned-pharmaceuticals executive-and-author Ibrahim Shalaby defies classification. The fictional frame story of this young adult (but also adult) book is a narration by a guava fruit in Domyat who tells the reader of a collective memory she carries from every drop of water and piece of earth that nourished her, and as such begins to tell the story of the river whose water she carries in her cells, hoping the reader will understand her better.
Shalaby then dives into a geographically-driven historical, anthropological, traditional storytelling and folkloric narrative all in one. He is an excellent researcher and the fabulously talented Ahmed Soliman has complemented his work with a layout that is aesthetically pleasing and chock full of clever factoids and well-selected (as well as scrupulously cited) maps, images, photographs and charts designed to make the reader feel very much in the know.
We follow the Nile as it gently flows into the sea and tells the stories of the villages of towns it passes, and Shalaby weaves historical narratives with Sufi poetry, military marches, traditional games and creational mythologies that explain many things such as why crocodiles will not overturn boats made of papyrus, how the ashura dessert came to be, who Hassan and Naima of Egyptian folklore are, how working monasteries started, and most importantly: why we want to visit Esna, Qena, Domyat and Mansoura, as well as revisit Alexandria and Luxor.
The lyrical pace of this ode to Egypt is accessible and revolutionary in its scope and approach. It is an excellent family read, a precursor to a trip down the nile valley, as well as a supremely appropriate potential addition to the curriculum: it bridges many of the gaps with its understanding of Egypt as a product of many cultures, embracing the influence of all the religions that reigned over it. I cannot recommend it enough.
Aziza: Memories of a Land and a River
Author: Dr. Ibrahim Shalaby
Illustrator: Ahmed Soliman
Cairo: Al-Balsam Publishing House 2014
177pp (YA book, 15+)
REVIEWS OF EGYPTIAN CHILDREN'S & YA BOOKS
Do you want to post a book review for EBBY?
Complete and submit the form here. Thank you!