A Quick Review of The Book; Lyrics Alley by Leila Abouleila

by Monicah Wangari
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Leila Abouleila was born and raised in Egypt. She was inspired to write Lyrics Alley by her father’s cousin who passed on before she was born. Her father’s cousin is Nur in the book. Her father narrated the story to her and she turned it into this piece I am now reviewing.

It starts at the Abuzeid hoash.

Mahmoud Bey Abuzeid is a respectable businessman in Umdurman and the wider Sudanese community. He has some connections in Egypt and has a deep appreciation for their culture and the agenda they are proposing to Sudan.

He is polygamous with two wives; one who is a very traditional Sudanese woman Hajjah Waheeba, and her opposite, a modern Egyptian woman Nabilah. Both women bear him children yet harbour a  genuine dislike for each other. Nabilah’s idea of marriage was her staying back in Egypt and Mahmoud visiting as often. Yet ironically, she is neighbors with Hajjah, her rival.

They hardly meet except when need arises. When Mahmoud was sick, Nabilah went to visit him. He was staying at the older wife Hajjah’s hoash. He received very many visitors. 

At one point, Hajjah who is very traditional, lures Ferrial, Nabilah’s daughter into her circumcision. Nabilah is currently escorting her mother Qadriyyah and her stepfather Mohsin to the airport. The car she is traveling back in gets a puncture. When Nabilah comes back and realizes what has happened, she demands that Mahmoud divorces Hajjah. Something they both should have done a long time ago.

Mahmoud and Hajjah have two sons. Nassir and Nur. Nassir wastes his father’s money on alcohol and Nur, which means light, is the son they hope will eventually come into the Abuzeid company.

Nur is a happy young man. He performs well at school and he loves poetry. Something that his family doesn’t understand. The book is set in the 1950s so imagine what art meant then.

So he writes secretly but shares with his betrothed Soraya. He attends poetry events and narrates to her. She enjoys that. She loves him and can’t wait to get married to him.

But tragedy strikes. Nur, whom the family looked up to eventually run the family business has an accident, which renders him vegetative. He can no longer fend for himself. He is immobile. His family takes him to London for treatment but no improvement is observed.

He goes through all the stages there is when you realize you can not hit a fly off your face. Or peruse a book. Or shake someone’s hand. Or lift a glass of water. Or marry the girl you love who’s now married to one of your best friends. This story for me was beautiful because we saw the light at the end of Nur’s tunnel. He did not let his mind go to waste. His teacher Ustaz Badr has deep conversations with him. They dig deep into who he is now.

Nur starts writing again. He starts to get noticed. He becomes a songwriter for a big artist in Sudan, Hamza Al-Naggar. He even gets interviewed by Radio Umdurman. He shares his story. It’s the courage to do so for me. To accept your vulnerability to the extent of sharing it with others.

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