Kiffe, Kiffe Tomorrow by Faiza Guene

I have finally made some progress on my Around the World project, a project with a goal of reading a children’s book from each and every nation of the world. I may have cheated here, however, since the book is not really Algerian but rather Parisian, but since it’s my own project I get to make up the rules.

Kiffe, Kiffe Tomorrow is a book set in Paris, written by a Frenchwoman of Algerian descent whose parents were immigrants to France from Algeria. Ms. Guene writes in the voice of her protagonist, Doria, perhaps from experience: the back cover of my book says that Faiza Guene “grew up in the public housing projects of Pantin, outside Paris.” It’s voice that that’s almost unrelentingly pessimistic and depressed. Daria’s father has deserted them and gone back to Morocco to re-marry, since Daria, a girl, is the only child her mother has been able to give her father, a traditional Arabic Muslim who wants a son above all. Fifteen year old Daria feels unloved and unwanted and unmoored. Her mother is struggling with a bad job, illiteracy, and the loss of her husband. Daria herself struggles in school and tries to find some sort of dream or role model to hold onto, but mostly fails. Or the dreams and the people she looks up to fail her. Either way, it’s a bad life, and in some ways it gets worse as the book progresses. Daria flunks out of school and is sent to a vocational high school. Her real-life crush turns out to be a drug dealer who’s too old for her anyway, and she finds out that her TV-crush is gay. Her dreams are unrealistic and mostly unachievable. One day she’s going to become a film star, the next a politician. Then, she wants to marry a rich guy who will take her out of the poverty she lives in. Or she thinks she might win the lottery.

The ending is ambiguous. Daria might make it out of the projects—or she might not. The title of the book reflects this ambiguity. Kiffe, Kiffe comes from the Arabic term kif-kif, meaning same old, same old. But it’s combined in Daria’s made up phrasing with the French verb kiffer which means to really like something or someone. So, kiffe, kiffe tomorrow indicates that Daria’s life may be the same old rut of poverty and failed dreams, or it may happen (tomorrow) that she finds something or someone she really likes to rescue her from her fate.

I can’t imagine that anyone, even a teen from the slums who identifies with Daria and her unrelenting unhappiness and cynicism, would read this book for enjoyment. However, it does end with a little ray of hope, and the narrative painted a realistic picture of the attitude and the actions that a life of poverty can engender in a young teenager who is trying desperately to find some sort of meaning and vision for her life. I didn’t like Daria very much, but I understood a little of why she thought the way she did. Perhaps reading this book will help me have a little more empathy for the people I come across who are trying to grow up and to climb out of poverty.

I don’t think I learned much about Algeria, however, or about Algerian children’s literature. The book is set, as I said, in Paris, and although the author is of Algerian parentage, she chose to send Daria’s father back to Morocco, not Algeria. I suppose I learned a bit about North African immigrants living in France. Anybody know of any children’s books actually from Algeria?

There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene

In case you hadn’t noticed ther is a LOT of controversy going on these days about international adoption, especially adoptions by U.S. parent of Ethiopian, Liberian, and other African children. Lots of agencies and groups involved in these adoptions are being accused of child-trafficking, stealing children from their parents and extended families to feed an American “obsession” with adoption. In fact, journalist Kathryn Joyce has recently published a book called The Child Catchers which seems to imply, or maybe state outright, that all international adoptions are suspect and akin to child abuse and kidnapping, especially those where the children are adopted into evangelical Christian families.

Melissa Fay Greene’s book, published in 2006, tells the story of one Ethiopian woman, Haregewoin Teferra, and the ups and downs of her “odyssey to rescue Africa’s children.” Ms. Greene also writes about the AIDs crisis in Ethiopia and in Africa, the political situation in Ethiopia, the ethics and difficulties and joys of Ethiopian adoption, and the difficulties of running an impromptu, under-funded, and unregulated orphanage. The book feels balanced and honest.

The best thing about this book is that Ms. Greene, although she obviously admires Haregewoin Teferra, does not idolize her. This journalistic trek through the back alleys of Addis Ababa and the orphanages and adoption agencies of Ethiopia is no hagiographic tribute to Haregewoin, even though she is the central character. It is instead a realistic picture of one woman who tries to help the orphans who are brought to her door, who sometimes makes mistakes, and who ends up helping some and being unable to help others.

“I would watch Haregewoin’s reputation rise and fall like sunrise and sunset. As she blended her life with the lives of people ruined by the pandemic, she became a nobody, like them. Then, she began to be seen as a saint. Then some cried, ‘hey! This is no saint!’ and accused her of corruption. Or maybe she started out as a saint, became a tyrant, then became a saint again. Or was it the reverse? THe story line hanged. But in ever account, no middle ground was allotted to Haregewoin: either she was all good, or she had gone bad. Those who watched, judged her.
Zewedu, her old friend, saw who Haregewoin was: an average person, muddling through a bad time, with a little more heart than most for the people around her who were suffering and half an eye cocked toward her own preservation. But most observers failed to reach this matter-of-fact point of view, and Ato Zewedu probably would not live much longer.
But then I heard, to my delight, that some people say even Mother Teresa herself was no Mother Teresa.”

This. Yes. We are all complicated, sinful, sometimes grace-filled, selfish, well-meaning, compassionate, but also unobservant, people. Some of us manage, by God’s grace, to do something kind and loving for someone else, even for many others, like the orphans Haregewoin helped. Somehow we muddle through and maybe do more good than harm. And God uses our poorest efforts and our mixed motives to serve Him and to serve others and to bring about His will.

If you are considering an international adoption, if you know someone who has adopted children from another country, if you just want to understand the complexities of adoption from the point of view of an adoptive mother and a journalist, read this book. Then read the articles I’ve linked to below for all kind of opinions and stories about international adoption. Some are horror stories; others are stories that inspire hope and sympathy. It’s complicated, but the complications shouldn’t paralyze us.

If God brings an orphan to your door, what can you do but open your home and your heart and let him in somehow?

Orphan Fever: The Evangelical Movement’s Adoption Obsession in Mother Jones magazine.

Evangelicals and Foreign Adoption by Maralee Bradley at Mere Orthodoxy.

Ethiopian Adoption: An Informal Guide by Melissa Fay Greene.

The Common Room and Adoption Advice.

International Adoptions Struggle for Hollywood Endings

Child Sponsorship instead of Adoption.

Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz

“The alleys, the houses, the palaces and mosques and the people who live among them are evoked as vividly in [Mahfouz’s] work as the streets of London were conjured up by Dickens.” ~Newsweek

I was struggling through Mr. Mahfouz’s epic novel, the first part of a trilogy set in modern Cairo, Egypt, and in the middle I read the above blurb on the cover. The comparison helped. I still didn’t like the people in the book, especially the men, nor did I ever, ever while reading this novel have any desire to visit Egypt in the twentieth century or even now. However, there is a Dickensian connection—or maybe a nineteenthe century connection since Mr. Mahfouz cites his favorite authors as “Flaubert, Balzac, Zola, Camus, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and above all Proust.” I can see a little of all of those men’s influence in the novel. Notice that Mr. Mahfouz, who “lives in Cairo with his wife and two daughters,” does not name any female authors among his influences. Therein lies a tale.

Of all the books I have ever read, this one is the most likely to turn me into a flaming feminist. The men in the novel, as in Islamic culture?, are self-centered, egotistical, hypocritical tyrants. If I had to choose between living in World War I-era Egypt, where Palace Walk takes place, and Victorian England, the home of those notorious tyrants Mr. Murdstone, Bill Sikes, and Wackford Squeers, I’d take my chances in jolly old England. At least in England I’d be able to leave the house on occasion.

The mother of the family in Palace Walk, Amina, leaves her home three or four times during the course of the novel, a time period of three or four years. She attends the weddings of her daughters, and she dares to go to a religious shrine once while her husband is out of town–with predictably disastrous consequences. Otherwise, Amina and her daughters are not allowed to even look out the window, lest they be seen by a man and become “fallen women.”

So the women in Palace Walk are firmly controlled, tyrannized, and abused by the central character of the novel (surely not the Hero), the father, al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad. This patriarch has a split personality: he is friendly, amiable, good-humored, and popular with his drinking buddies and paramours, of whom he has many, but at home he is a stern, grim, autocrat who rules his family with invective and fear. Oh, but they all love and respect him. Al-Sayyid Ahmad is a god in his own home, ruling over a collection of cloistered, intimidated women and three sons who are molding themselves in his image–when they are not cowering in his shadow.

The story also deals with the way the outside world impinges on the lives of the al-Sayyid (or al-Jawad?) family. As the novel begins it’s 1917, and the British are ruling Egypt although the occupation force seems to be mostly Australian. As World War I comes to a close, one of the sons, Fahmy, becomes involved in the anti-British independence movement. However, even when dealing with political and religious changes outside the home, the novel never loses its claustrophobic feel, always circling back to the home and the sense of imprisonment that each of the family members feels, even the men. After a while, it made me want to break out, screaming.

I’m glad to have read Palace Walk. I might, in a year or two, want to read the next book in Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy, Palace of Desire, in which novel I am told some women actually get to go to school! The main problem I had with this first novel is that I could find nothing attractive about the characters or the culture in this story, nothing with which to identify. I wanted the British “oppressors” to win and reform the country and let the women and servants out of their slavery. But none of the women in this novel would have had the spine or or imagination to take advantage of such a liberation, and the British didn’t seem to be headed in that direction anyway.

May Check-In: North Africa Reading Challenge

Did you read any books for the North Africa Reading Challenge in May? I didn’t, unfortunately, read anything this past month that was set in North Africa.

'africa-globe' photo (c) 2007, openDemocracy - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/I (we) will be concentrating on reading about Northern Africa this year. It’s a good place to start because I think we could all afford to know a little more about this part of the world from which so much of our heritage comes and in which so much has been happening lately. In my template, there are eleven countries in Northern Africa: Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. (South Sudan is a brand-new country in this region, and of course books set in South Sudan count, too.) The challenge is to read eleven books either set in this region or written by authors from this region in 2012. I hope to read read at least one adult book and one children’s book from each country. The children’s books may be more difficult to find.

You are welcome to try any one of the following challenges—or make up your own.

1. North Africa Tour: Read at least one book from each of the eleven countries in Northern Africa. Since the challenge runs for eleven months, this challenge would entail reading one book per month.

2. African Country Concentration: Read five books set in one of the countries of Northern Africa or five books by authors from one of the countries of Northern Africa. Example: Read five books by Egyptian authors.

3. Children’s Challenge: Read five to eleven children’s books set in Northern Africa. Adults are welcome to do this challenge either with a child or not.

The Northern Africa Challenge begins on January 1, 2012 and ends on December 1, 2012. If you choose to read eleven books for this challenge, that will be one book per month. You can still join. If you would like to join me in this challenge in 2012, please leave a comment. I will keep a list of challenge participants in the sidebar, and I will link to your reviews, if you write them and send me links, on my Africa pages. (If you already have book reviews on your blog related to Northern Africa, those books don’t count for the challenge. However, if you send me the links at sherryDOTearlyAtgmailDOTcom, I will add your reviews to my Northern Africa page.)

Did you read any books in May set in North Africa or written by North African authors? Have you reviewed those books on your blog? If so, please leave a link here so that we can share our journeys through the countries of northern Africa.

April Check-in: North Africa Reading Challenge

Sorry this check-in is so late. I forgot. However, I did read a couple of North Africa-related books this month. And I even reviewed one of them: Scoop by Evelyn Waugh. I also read In the Country of Men by Libyan author Hisham Matar. I’ll try to get a review written and posted soon.

'africa-globe' photo (c) 2007, openDemocracy - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/I (we) will be concentrating on reading about Northern Africa this year. It’s a good place to start because I think we could all afford to know a little more about this part of the world from which so much of our heritage comes and in which so much has been happening lately. In my template, there are eleven countries in Northern Africa: Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. (South Sudan is a brand-new country in this region, and of course books set in South Sudan count, too.) The challenge is to read eleven books either set in this region or written by authors from this region in 2012. I hope to read read at least one adult book and one children’s book from each country. The children’s books may be more difficult to find.

You are welcome to try any one of the following challenges—or make up your own.

1. North Africa Tour: Read at least one book from each of the eleven countries in Northern Africa. Since the challenge runs for eleven months, this challenge would entail reading one book per month.

2. African Country Concentration: Read five books set in one of the countries of Northern Africa or five books by authors from one of the countries of Northern Africa. Example: Read five books by Egyptian authors.

3. Children’s Challenge: Read five to eleven children’s books set in Northern Africa. Adults are welcome to do this challenge either with a child or not.

The Northern Africa Challenge begins on January 1, 2012 and ends on December 1, 2012. If you choose to read eleven books for this challenge, that will be one book per month. You can still join. If you would like to join me in this challenge in 2012, please leave a comment. I will keep a list of challenge participants in the sidebar, and I will link to your reviews, if you write them and send me links, on my Africa pages. (If you already have book reviews on your blog related to Northern Africa, those books don’t count for the challenge. However, if you send me the links at sherryDOTearlyAtgmailDOTcom, I will add your reviews to my Northern Africa page.)

Did you read any books in April set in North Africa or written by North African authors? Have you reviewed those books on your blog? If so, please leave a link here so that we can share our journeys through the countries of northern Africa.

1. Semicolon (Scoop by Evelyn Waugh)
2. Falaise (Egypt: The Book of Chaos)
3. Megan (The Good Braider)
4. JoV (Desert by J.M.G. Le Clézio)

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Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

I don’t know if it was just me or my mood or what, but Evelyn Waugh’s comic novel that the NYT Book Review called “thoroughly enjoyable, uproariously funny” just felt like a P.G. Wodehouse wannabe, except more pretentious and not nearly as accessible or humorous. Scoop is a parody of the world of sensational journalism, and as such it’s neither dated nor inaccurate. If anything, Big Journalism has become more unreliable and farcical in the twenty-first century than it seems to have been in 1937-38 when this book was first published. But I did keep thinking, as I read the story of the accidental foreign correspondent for the Daily Beast, William Boot, that I’d rather be reading about Bertie Wooster and Jeeves.

In a case of mistaken identity, Boot is sent to the country of Ishmalia to cover an incipient rebellion. Although set in a fictional country in North or East Africa (near Soudan?, Waugh’s spelling), the novel doesn’t really have much to say about Africa either. The Africans in the novel are simply foils for the oh-so-comical exploits of the European press corps and the politicians who seek to exploit the Africans. The N-word makes frequent appearances, and although the mere appearance of such a term doesn’t offend me as much as it does some people, the attitude of condescension and superiority that all the Europeans in the novel have toward “the natives” does make for reader discomfort and weariness after a while.

“The novel is partly based on Waugh’s own experience working for the Daily Mail, when he was sent to cover Benito Mussolini’s expected invasion of Abyssinia – what was later known as the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. When he got his own scoop on the invasion he telegraphed the story back in Latin for secrecy, but they discarded it.” Wikipedia

Now that’s funny.

One main idea in the novel is that the news reporters create the news. Even if nothing of importance is happening, where there are reporters, news must happen. So the reporters make it happen or make it up. Nowadays with CNN and the internet and the 24 hour news cycle, news must be created even faster and in greater quantity. Maybe that insight is worth wading through some of the obscure slang and bewildering politics of Scoop, but I’m not sure.

classicsclubI did like the way Waugh ends some of his chapters, with purposefully purple-ish prose that satirizes the journalists and yet communicates a sort of melancholy feel to the story:

“And the granite sky wept.”

“So the rain fell and the afternoon and the evening were succeeded by another night and another morning.”

“William once more turned to the Pension Dressler; the dark clouds opened above him; the gutters and wet leaves sparkled in sunlight and a vast, iridescent fan of colour, arc beyond arc of splendor, spread across the heavens. The journalists had gone, and a great peace reigned in the city.”

Scoop is the first book I’ve read from my Classics Club list. I’m hoping it only gets better from here.

March Check-in: North Africa Reading Challenge

I’ve been interested for a while in reading books about Africa. If you look at the top of this page you will see a link to my pages of Books about Africa, sorted by region and then by country. So I decided to get organized in 2012 and sponsor a challenge for myself and anyone else who wants to join in.

'africa-globe' photo (c) 2007, openDemocracy - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/I (we) will be concentrating on Northern Africa this year. It’s a good place to start because I think we could all afford to know a little more about this part of the world from which so much of our heritage comes and in which so much has been happening lately. In my template, there are eleven countries in Northern Africa: Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. (South Sudan is a brand-new country in this region, and of course books set in South Sudan count, too.) The challenge is to read eleven books either set in this region or written by authors from this region in 2012. I hope to read read at least one adult book and one children’s book from each country. The children’s books may be more difficult to find.

You are welcome to try any one of the following challenges—or make up your own.

1. North Africa Tour: Read at least one book from each of the eleven countries in Northern Africa. Since the challenge runs for eleven months, this challenge would entail reading one book per month.

2. African Country Concentration: Read five books set in one of the countries of Northern Africa or five books by authors from one of the countries of Northern Africa. Example: Read five books by Egyptian authors.

3. Children’s Challenge: Read five to eleven children’s books set in Northern Africa. Adults are welcome to do this challenge either with a child or not.

The Northern Africa Challenge begins on January 1, 2012 and ends on December 1, 2012. If you choose to read eleven books for this challenge, that will be one book per month. You can still join. If you would like to join me in this challenge in 2012, please leave a comment. I will keep a list of challenge participants in the sidebar, and I will link to your reviews, if you write them and send me links, on my Africa pages. (If you already have book reviews on your blog related to Northern Africa, those books don’t count for the challenge. However, if you send me the links at sherryDOTearlyAtgmailDOTcom, I will add your reviews to my Northern Africa page.)

Have you read any books in March set in North Africa or written by North African authors? Have you reviewed those books on your blog? If so, please leave a link here so that we can share our journeys through the countries of northern Africa.

February Check-in: North Africa Reading Challenge

I’ve been interested for a while in reading books about Africa. If you look at the top of this page you will see a link to my pages of Books about Africa, sorted by region and then by country. So I decided to get organized in 2012 and sponsor a challenge for myself and anyone else who wants to join in.

'africa-globe' photo (c) 2007, openDemocracy - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/I (we) will be concentrating on Northern Africa this year. It’s a good place to start because I think we could all afford to know a little more about this part of the world from which so much of our heritage comes and in which so much has been happening lately. In my template, there are eleven countries in Northern Africa: Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. (South Sudan is a brand-new country in this region, and of course books set in South Sudan count, too.) The challenge is to read eleven books either set in this region or written by authors from this region in 2012. I hope to read read at least one adult book and one children’s book from each country. The children’s books may be more difficult to find.

You are welcome to try any one of the following challenges—or make up your own.

1. North Africa Tour: Read at least one book from each of the eleven countries in Northern Africa. Since the challenge runs for eleven months, this challenge would entail reading one book per month.

2. African Country Concentration: Read five books set in one of the countries of Northern Africa or five books by authors from one of the countries of Northern Africa. Example: Read five books by Egyptian authors.

3. Children’s Challenge: Read five to eleven children’s books set in Northern Africa. Adults are welcome to do this challenge either with a child or not.

The Northern Africa Challenge begins on January 1, 2012 and ends on December 1, 2012. If you choose to read eleven books for this challenge, that will be one book per month. You can still join. If you would like to join me in this challenge in 2012, please leave a comment. I will keep a list of challenge participants in the sidebar, and I will link to your reviews, if you write them and send me links, on my Africa pages. (If you already have book reviews on your blog related to Northern Africa, those books don’t count for the challenge. However, if you send me the links at sherryDOTearlyAtgmailDOTcom, I will add your reviews to my Northern Africa page.)

Have you read any books in February set in North Africa or written by North African authors? Have you reviewed those books on your blog? If so, please leave a link here so that we can share our journeys through the countries of northern Africa.

Africa Is Not a Country by Margy Burns Knight and Mark Melnicove

“Africa is not a country—it is a vast continent made up of 53 nations. . . From the tiny island nations of Comoros, Syechelles, and Sao Tome and Principe, to its largest country (Sudan), Africa is the only continent with land in all four hemispheres.”

Z-baby (age 10) read this book, and commented as she read:

“You mean Africa is bigger than the United States?”

“It says Africa is almost as wide as it is tall. No way!”

“Here’s what I don’t understand: why is it when they talk about Africa on the radio they always talk about the children? Something’s always happening to the children?”

“Pula is the name of the money in Botswana and it also means rain.”

“It told about this girl who sold milk, and she carried it on her head.”

I thought this book, consisting of several brief stories of children in various African countries and colorful illustrations depicting the children’s lives, was a good introduction to the continent of Africa and the idea that it is a vast place with many different nations and cultures. Z-baby learned some things, but she was not terribly impressed with the book or its content.

Unit study and curriculum uses for Africa Is Not a Country: Africa, world geography, Black History Month, cultural geography.

Nonfiction Monday is being celebrated today at the blog Wrapped in Foil.

Desert Elephants by Helen Cowcher

“In Mali, West Africa, the last remaining desert elephants follow the longest migration route of any elephant in the world. THeir largest circular route is 300 miles long across harsh land just south of Sahara desert. When the dry season begins, they start their journey for water. Their lives depend on it.”

This 2011 nonfiction picture book tells the story of the desert elephants of the Sahel. These elephants live in a area called the Gourma in central Mali. The tribes that live in this same area are the Dogon, Fulani, and Tuareg peoples. The book tells how the elephants migrate to find water during the dry season and during the rainy season, and it also tells about the tribal peoples’ efforts to live in harmony with the elephants and to not disturb them.

The illustrations are lovely, showing the beauty of the elephants and of the people that live near them. the vibrant colors in the people’s clothing and environment will help to dispel the image of desert Africa as a land of sand-colored tents and fabrics and not much more. In an author’s note at the end of the book, Ms. Cowcher says, “These dramatic textiles are another way of communicating. Designs can include popular goods like fans, phones, stoves, or water pumps or more traditional symbols like hands, fingers, or eyes.”

The book also shows the importance of radio communication in the parts of the world where many of the people are illiterate and are spread out over miles of territory. “The radio tells people about how to protect the land they share with the elephants, gives them advice on health and education, and broadcasts programs about women’s issues. . . Radios also play soap operas and music.”

Curriculum and unit study uses for Desert Elephants: deserts, elephants, mammals, Africa, North Africa, West Africa, the Sahel, the Sahara, Tuareg, Dogon, Fulani, Black History Month, environments, conservation, water.

Nonfiction Monday, a round-up of reviews of children’s nonfiction books is hosted to day at Capstone Connect.