A brilliantly imaginative book, Malik el-Ashya'a offers an interesting take on the relations between people and things, in this case children and public school utilities such as walls, desks, or doors. Through Karim, our protagonist, who has the fascinating ability to talk to inanimate things, the author firstly problematizes the dichotomy of people versus things by giving things the ability to talk to Karim; in other words, personifying and animating the inanimate objects. Secondly and more importantly is the author's trying to suggest a hierarchy in which things are aiming to control people, or to rebel, not to overthrow them but rather to make them aware of how hostile they have always been to them as things.
The book is both captivating and innovative; it addresses a serious issue embedded in modern dynamics of consumption, mass production, and commodification more generally by a simple yet thought-intriguing narrative. In terms of plot and story structure, this book reads perfectly smoothly and is fairly accessible to children above ten years old. One possible critique is that the book's setting which is a boarding school, its plot and development are all arguably overused in children's literature; for example, we see the bullies, the ideal protagonist, and the "deviant" school kids. Whether this typicality appeals to all children is debatable, just as is using this simplified microcosm to deal with broader social issues as aforementioned.
In spite of the book's idealism, Malik il-Ashya'a still makes a very enjoyable read, one which unusually uses the everyday to transcend its sheer mundaneness and to trigger children to think more deeply about their relations to people, and things. As the author mentions in the epilogue, he was inspired to write this book by his own childhood memories and how his mother used to personify everyday commodities. This personal perspective is what makes the book not only authentic but also appealing, innovative, and indeed creative. In such an overwhelming, fast-pacing world of consumption and production, the book triggers our dearest readers to personalize their belongings more deeply; to add personal and sentimental value to the seemingly impersonal and alienating commodities.
Reviewed by Noha Ezz El-Din Fikry
Malik El-Ashya'a (King of Things)
Author: Dr. Tarek Abdel-Bary
Illustrator: Mayada Mossad
Cairo: Al-Balsam Publishing House, 2006
198pp (YA book, 10+)
This is a story about a boy named “Karim” who goes to a boarding school and experiences various typical school incidents: the bullies, the friend, the horrible principal... The special thing about Karim is that he can hear and talk to objects; Curtains, pens you name it! Karim is the first in his school to finally stand up to The Bullies and take them down with the help of his new friends: the objects at school.The story also sheds light on how brutally children often treat objects by portraying them as having feelings. As the story progresses, Karim discovers an old secret buried at school that will unleash a monster. No spoilers but the story is an absolute page-turner and a wonderful read and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy.
P.S. The book has been translated into German and has a whole website dedicated to it: http://www.king-of-things.com/ enjoy!
Reviewed by Farah Tawfeek