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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading
I really enjoyed this novel, set in Sudan and Egypt in the 1950s.
It covers a lot of ground, but the story at the centre is the true relationship between Sudan's famous poet and songwriter, Hassan Awad Aboulela and his childhood sweetheart, represented as Nur and Soraya in the novel. They were cousins, betrothed from a young age, until a serious accident changed...
Published on 29 May 2011 by DubaiReader

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Extremely well written
This was a move away from my usual literary diet and I was greatly taken by the Author's writing and subject matter.
This was a fascinating part of the social and cultural history between Sudan and Egypt and the Author handles this with subtelty and intelligence.
The characters are a rich mix of different styles and Leila Aboulela creates an extra frisson...
Published on 2 Sep 2011 by Jonathan Clark


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading, 29 May 2011
By 
DubaiReader "MaryAnne" (Rowlands Castle, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Lyrics Alley (Paperback)
I really enjoyed this novel, set in Sudan and Egypt in the 1950s.
It covers a lot of ground, but the story at the centre is the true relationship between Sudan's famous poet and songwriter, Hassan Awad Aboulela and his childhood sweetheart, represented as Nur and Soraya in the novel. They were cousins, betrothed from a young age, until a serious accident changed everything. Hassan Awad Aboulela was Leila Aboulela's uncle and although he died before she was born, he remained quite a family tradition.
The remaining characters are fictional, two very different wives for Nur's father - traditional, Waheeba from Sudan and fashionable Nabilah from Egypt. There is a lot of animosity between these two women, which comes to a head through Nabilah's daughter.
On the male side of the family is the patriach, Mahmoud, a forceful businessman, and his other son, Nassir, and Mahmoud's brother and business partner, Idris. There is also an interesting character, Ustaz Badr, a devout Muslim, who becomes Nur's tutor and advisor, plus Ustaz Badr's troublesome brother.
With this cast of thousands, I found the family tree at the beginning was a great help.

There is an interesting diversion into the opinions on women being allowed to wear spectacles, which was hugely frowned on by some members of such circles and all of these events are woven into the politics of a Sudan ruled by both Egypt and Britain, as it starts to exert its independance.
This was a book group read and made for an interesting evening's discussion.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Extremely well written, 2 Sep 2011
By 
Jonathan Clark "Great Black Hawk" (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Lyrics Alley (Paperback)
This was a move away from my usual literary diet and I was greatly taken by the Author's writing and subject matter.
This was a fascinating part of the social and cultural history between Sudan and Egypt and the Author handles this with subtelty and intelligence.
The characters are a rich mix of different styles and Leila Aboulela creates an extra frisson between the between the young cousins Nur and Mahmoud Abuzeid's first wife Waheeba and second wife Nabilah.
The story centres on Nur (one of Mahmoud Abuzeid's sons) who is a bright and engaging individual who has the World at his feet until tradegy besets him (as this is on the sleeve notes I'm giving nothing away!).
There is alot to this book but the one downside was that I thought that the story would kick-on but alas, and IMO, it didn't.
However I can see why it has been critically acclaimed and will consider some of her earlier works.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing family saga with believable characters, 26 May 2013
By 
BookWorm "BookWorm" (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Lyrics Alley (Paperback)
Leila Aboulela is, in my opinion, a hugely underrated author. I can't understand why she isn't more widely read or celebrated, given that she is at least as good - and often better than - many more popular current literary novelists. This, her third novel, is her best to date. A family saga set in 1950s Sudan, it makes less of religion than her earlier novels, which might give it a broader appeal (although as a non-religious person myself, I actually really enjoyed that aspect of her books). Lyrics Alley has the same warmth of tone and flawed but extremely likeable characters as the works of the great Rohinton Mistry. Its structure, with multiple interlinked characters, each with their own storyline, reminded me of War and Peace but without all the military strategy. Readers who enjoyed the works of Mistry, Tolstoy, or Vikram Seth, would enjoy this.

The story is told from multiple viewpoints (but in a well structured way without flitting between them confusingly), centred around the wealthy Abuzeid family. It is one of those stories where you can sympathise with every character, even when they are in conflict with each other. Aboulela is one of those writers that is able to show both the goodness and the flaws in everyone she writes about. She is not afraid to show the darker side of life, but balances it with acts of love and kindness. The novel feels very real and believable, and the reader is drawn into the world of these characters. By using multiple characters she manages to show different aspects of life - from the young Egyptian second wife of a wealthy businessman, to the decent but poor Arabic teacher. It is a book that manages to say a lot, but all clothed in a very readable and enjoyable story. If you were to pick out themes, there's a lot in here to consider; disability, the clash between tradition and modernity, female genital mutilation, the difficulties of love and marriage, colonialism and its impact. But it's not one of those books that is trying to specifically teach you anything, and it probably makes you think more about the topics touched on for that.

One of the things I do like about her writing is the way she enables a reader to understand the different way of life and values of the society she writes about, and it is good to see the Muslim faith depicted in a positive way. In fact, Aboulela has shown me in all her books how religion can be a tremendous force for good in people's lives. There is one particular episode in this book that shows a character using his faith to find strength to get through a difficult episode, and reading it I started to feel quite envious. There's nothing preachy about it, it's not trying to convert anyone or 'sell' the religion, but it does make you understand why faith is so important to many people and how it can guide them in a positive way. But likewise she also shows the damage caused by superstition and over-conservatism.

All in all, it's one of those novels I could have quite happily carried on reading forever, spying on the lives and the trials and tribulations of this family and their associates. Leaving them behind feels like leaving old friends. I think Aboulela set out to write about people, and their lives, and this is what makes the book so accessible and appealing to the reader. She hasn't tried to tick any literary boxes, at least not as far as I can see, and because of that has produced a much more satisfying read than many other novels in the same genre. So don't be put off because you haven't heard of her - get in and read her now before everyone else catches on!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Less of the Men, More of the Women, 23 Mar 2011
By 
Simon Savidge Reads "Simon" (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Lyrics Alley (Paperback)
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written., 19 April 2013
This review is from: Lyrics Alley (Paperback)
This is my favourite of Leila Aboulela's novels. Like its title, her prose is always lyrical, and Lyrics Alley has an added confidence in its writing.

The novel is set in the 1950s as Sudan approaches independence from the UK. I knew little about Sudan's history, and this is deftly woven into the novel, without dominating it. Lyrics Alley is based on the true story of Aboulela's uncle, who turned to poetry after an accident.

In Lyrics Alley, Mahmoud Abuzeid is a prosperous businessman who is head of an extended family that includes his two wives, his two sons, his brother and his brother's daughters. Mahmoud's two wives are in stark contrast: the first wife is Sudanese, menopausal and traditional; the second wife is young, Egyptian and modern. Mahmoud's two sons by his first wife are also in contrast. Nassir, the elder, in spite of being married, is irresponsible in work and play. Nur, the younger, is a brilliant scholar expected to go to Cambridge University in Britain. He is also betrothed to Soraya, his cousin, and their affection for each other is sensitively portrayed, as are the repercussions on their relationship of Nur's terrible accident.

Lyrics Alley is a multi-viewpoint novel and Aboulela shows us the lives of the characters through their eyes, allowing us to see their thoughts and feelings. Instead of judging the conditions in which the characters find themselves, Aboulela allows the characters to speak for themselves. For instance, we feel the young Soraya's indignation when her father doesn't allow her to have the spectacles she so desperately needs for school, and this incident reveals the plight of women at the time when men were looking forward to liberation! In the same way, Aboulela also weaves the issue of female circumcision into the narrative in a way that leaves no doubt about its impact. At the same time as she sensitively shows the feelings of the traditional wife, Waheeba, who is afraid of what she sees as the terrible consequences that would befall her daughter were she to remain uncircumcised.

One final character I would like to mention is Badr, who tutors Nur after his accident. His position is so lowly that Mahmoud does not remember his name. Badr is a complex character, a devout Muslim who struggles with guilt at not being able to maintain his ideals. One passage that stands out in my mind is when the teacher visits the mosque and feels a strong sense of spiritual connection but then wonders if it was all his imagination; afterwards he goes home feeling sure he's going to cope better now his ailing father and hapless cousin. Instead he flies into a rage and then feels frustrated at himself.

Lyrics Alley is a great blend of history and story, and throughout it all Aboulela writes with a sense of kindness, of understanding.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well written but can drift away towards the end, 17 April 2013
By 
Gogol (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Lyrics Alley (Paperback)
This is a very well written book set in a Sudan leading up to its independence it revolves around a well to do family. The patriarch of the family has two wives. One Sudanese, traditional and African. The other Egyptian and modern. He has adult children. One Nur everything a father should want in a son. Hard working, intelligent and soon to be married to his cousin until a dramatic accident in Egypt leaves him paralysed. The other the complete opposite. Lazy and more interested in squandering money and using the family name to his own advantage.

The book contains many complex characters and touches on a number of issues such as the relationship between Egypt and the Sudan and how both people perceive themselves. Western involvement and Sudan's development. The rights of women in Sudan (Its interesting to read about the university years of one of the female characters and how her family are more concerned with marrying her off and how much a university degree will affect any possible interest from a prospective husband)

All in all the book is very well written the only complaint I would have is at times I feel this book is like a film that has lasted longer than it really needs to and is starting to drag on. The problem with this is there are times you feel you are forcing yourself to read on instead of enjoying the book (Never a good sign) Otherwise 4 stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical Prose, 5 Sep 2012
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This review is from: Lyrics Alley (Paperback)
I bought this book Because I like to read novels from the Arab or Islamic perspective and have read some of her previous novels. She catches what live was like in the early 1950s and under Colonial rule. I think this book is an accurate reflection and great writing . This book is written from the perspective of different members of the family and people associated with them she portrays the emotions of the people very well and the places that were mentioned as I have been to some of them .
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Sudanese Masterpiece, 9 Jan 2011
By 
napata "napata" (Surrey, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Lyrics Alley (Paperback)
I consider Lyrics Alley to be Leila Aboulela's finest literary work.
The best Sudanese authors have often contextualised the social backdrop of their writing either within a purely Sudanese setting that is more often than not rural, or through its diametric opposite in the West. Lyrics Alley breaks new ground by juxtaposing the traditional Northern Sudanese culture with its urbane Egyptian counterpart, a feat which is by no means straightforward due to the loaded historical relations between the neighbouring countries which both converge and diverge. Never before has an author explored the cultural intricacies of respective Sudanese and Egyptian personas with such insight and frank unconstraint.
Lyrics Alley manages to accurately resurrect a tumultuous yet positive period in Sudan's pre-independence history that has not received its fair share of documentation. The publication of Lyrics Alley at this time, during the referendum on the secession of South Sudan is fortuitously timely. Lyrics Alley is part Al-Tayeb Saleh, part Carlos Fuentes' Crystal Frontier where he examines the contradictions of Mexican society.
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4.0 out of 5 stars good book, 12 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Lyrics Alley (Kindle Edition)
***
Book didn't dwell on his misfortune. Moved very fast. Some points I couldn't put it down. Came to a rather abrupt end
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5.0 out of 5 stars Holiday read, 18 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Lyrics Alley (Paperback)
Bought as a replacement for the library copy my son-in-law mislaid! Looks like an interesting read to take on holiday.
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Lyrics Alley
Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela
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