I don’t like to start of my thoughts on a book too negatively, in fact I don’t even like doing negative reviews (not that this might be one), but I do like to talk honestly about how I come to read a book and what makes me rush to a particular title and what doesn’t. I don’t think if it hadn’t been for its Orange long-listing, and subsequent arrival through my letter box, I would have picked ‘Lyrics Alley’ by Leila Aboulela up, especially based on the cover alone. Its not that it looks cheap, thought the title font is a little basic, its just it looks a bit obvious maybe a bit blandly so. That being my initial thoughts I decided it would be the next Orange long listed title that I would attempt, my thoughts have been hitting the ones I am initially the least excited about or look the hardest work first. Is ‘Lyrics Alley’ a book that should have judged from the cover or not?
What intrigued me about ‘Lyrics Alley’ before I started reading it was the time and place of its setting. I don’t know very much about the 1950’s and I certainly know nothing about Sudan. However this is the scene we find ourselves in as we are thrown into the lives of the Abuzeid family, a rather renowned and sprawling dynasty in their time yet a family also slightly at odds with one another. In some ways an incredibly close family, in fact brothers Mahmoud and Idris marry their offspring off to each other they are also at war with power struggles occasionally between brothers and fathers and sons.
Yet it’s the story of the men of the household Mahmoud, his sons Nassir and Nur and Mahmoud’s brother Idris that left me feeling somewhat cold. As their family business develops and the world they find themselves changes with the sun setting on British rule and self government on the horizon I should have been gripped by their changing circumstance and all it brought, yet I wasn’t really. I mean I read it happily enough, I liked how the story spread through Sudan, Egypt and England, I just wasn’t hooked.
The opposite was the case with the women though. In particular the story of Idris’s daughter Soraya, who is the first female in the family to get a full education despite her forthcoming enforced betrothal to her cousin Nur, and her storyline thereafter called out to me. As did the stories and relationships of Mahmoud’s first forced wife Waheeba and his second self chosen bride Nabilah. The latter being from Cairo and of a new age which frowns upon the idea of female circumcision and the ways of old, which is the complete polar opposite of Waheeba. This for me was where the story really lay and indeed it felt like it was where the author’s heart lay, it read truer, it had more passion.
‘Lyrics Alley’ is a true family saga. It has a huge scope and Aboulela manages to pull a rather complicated family together and make you interested in them. I did think that there was a forewarning you might as a reader be confused by the family tree in the front, and indeed I did occasionally need it. She also captures a very interesting period in the history of Sudan, its just that the atmosphere and true impact of it all only seemed to come alive when the women were in charge, and if they had been I think ‘Lyrics Alley’ would have gone from being a rather good book to an incredible one. 7.5/10
This book was kindly sent by the publisher.
I have wondered if it is the story of the female situations in this book that got it on the Orange long list, and I don’t mean that to sound like Leila Aboulela can’t write as she clearly can, it’s just a point to ponder. Has anyone else given this a whirl? I only wonder as I hadn’t heard about it at all until last week. Are you reading any of the Orange long listed titles? If so which ones and how are you getting on? Has anyone read any of Leila Aboulela’s other novels?