“I think there aren’t any sacrifices. There are only choices. I think if you give something up for someone, it won’t feel like a sacrifice. It’ll feel like the right thing to do.”
~ Shahid, Cairo, G. Willow Wilson
Ashraf, a hash smuggler, has been having a bad day. And it is probably going to get worse now. He has stolen a hookah from Nar who is an evil crime-lord and a magician. The hookah is not an ordinary one. It contains magic and tremendous power, which is why Nar wants it so desperately and he can go to any lengths to get it back. What is this power and what kind of magic does it contain and whether Nar finally gets it forms the rest of the story of this thriller sprinkled with magical realism!
Set in contemporary Cairo, the story revolves around six characters – Ashraf, who was introduced earlier; Tova, an Israeli soldier; Jibreel Ali, a rabblerousing journalist; Kate, an expat, a lost American and an aspiring journalist; Shaheed, a Lebanese-American, mostly a confused kid & Shams – a Jinn who is the protector of the power in question. Throughout the story we get to read references to a couple of legends and myths and a few demons make appearance as well. The story also features the legend of Under-Nile, a river that is said to be running deep down the Nile, in the opposite direction. In many places, the story is writ with wry humor and a sort of commentary on the social situation of the city.
The art by M. K. Perker is enchanting and evokes riotous imagery despite being black and white. For eg. There is an illustration of the Under-Nile that is so beautifully done that the scene seems as if it is really around you. I have posted a few more pictures so you get the drift.
I am going to make a special mention of the way the female characters of the novel are written. Like a breath of fresh air. They don’t fall into the stereotypes and make sure they demand their space in the story without being overridden by the narratives of their male counterparts. You see shades of Wilson’s own life here and there in one of the female characters who is an expat. Wilson herself is a convert and her journey towards Islam started with a lot of apprehension. The apprehension is clearly visible in how Kate handles herself.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I am so glad Sarath hounded me to read it. It takes hardly an hour or so to finish the novel, and every page is worth it. The end is surreal as is wont to any magical realism and hence it can also make for a great discussion.
A story that can be re-read and enjoyed multiple times for sure.