Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela

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Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: The large Abuzeid family is living in 1950s Sudan. As politics take hold, we see family members struggling in all sorts of areas of their lives: culture and tradition, love and sometimes loss alongside the 'safe' old and the scary 'new' ways of thinking in an area under transition.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: December 2010
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0297860099

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The front cover photograph is eye-catching and lovely and has the appeal of saying to potential readers - read me. The book's title is both poetic and enigmatic. I was keen to get reading but before I could, I'm faced with a page listing the Principal Characters and another page setting out the Abuzeid family tree. It did put me off slightly, I have to admit. I tend to think that with a modern, average-paged work of fiction a list of characters is well, a list too far. So, yes, for the first couple of chapters I was constantly flicking back and forth to remind myself who everyone was. Not so good for those lazy readers out there, I'm thinking.

Right at the beginning of the novel sees the head of the family, the patriarch, Mahmoud Bey, recovering from some sort of illness. He's on the mend now which is just as well; he has quite a family to support financially. Two wives and their respective children need to be housed, fed and clothed on a daily basis. Good job Mahmoud is not short of money. The wives do not get on. This is an understatement if ever there was one. The first wife lives the old-fashioned, traditional way with her children and seems content with her lot. But it's evident that her best years are behind her. All Mahmoud's love and attention is now on his younger, prettier and more sophisticated second wife. She has also blessed him with a couple of healthy children.

Aboulela's style is fluid and engaging. The conversations and dialogues between characters are natural and convincing. Very easy to read indeed. She gives her readers plenty of references to the Sudanese-Egyptian ways of life in terms of, for example, the housing and surrounding streets, the food, the social life of the characters along with their plans and dreams for the future. It's all interwoven nicely alongside the narrative which makes for a subtle touch which I liked.

We soon meet the enchanting Soraya. She's also complex and interesting. On the cusp of marriage (arranged) and hopefully family life. But Soraya is firmly in the 'modern' camp. She's seen glimpses of this way of life and she's entranced. She wants to be part of it. But can she? Will she be allowed? We learn that Soraya is (informally) betrothed to her cousin Nur. Nur is a young man going places. Until a dreadful accident stops him in his tracks.

Aboulela's softy, softly approach to all things cultural in this book is a winner for me. For example, take the subject of arranged marriages with these lines It occurred to Soraya that Fatma had fallen in love with her husband. The idea was startling and disgusting.. Other areas of culture and Sudanese tradition are also tackled here - but not at the expense of the story.

The fortunes of the Abuzeid family members rise and fall throughout under Aboulela's lyrical (no pun intended) writing style. Does Nur cope with his new situation? What is Sorya's future now? The political situation at that time is also touched upon and I found it interesting to see how the successful businessman Mahmoud relates to British nationals (usually embassy staff) living locally. In amongst the dust and the spices of a bustling location, Aboulela weaves an engaging web of story-telling. Recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then try Disgrace by J M Coetzee.

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Buy Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela at

Booklists.jpg Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela is in the Orange Prize 2011.


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