Playing Cards In Cairo: Mint Tea, Tarneeb and Tales of the City Paperback – 10 Feb 2011
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** 'Behind the veil are the frustrations, fads, fashions and fallibilities familiar to women the world over. Miles is a loving listener, whose understanding of the Islamic world is sharpened by tea and sympathy (THE TIMES)
** 'Playing Cards mixes personal vignettes with an informed overview of Egyptian politics, and although unflinching about Cairo's problems, Miles shows his affection for this great city of every page. (FINANCIAL TIMES)
** 'An intriguing read and, as an introduction to Egyptian life, it's fascinating (DAILY MAIL)
** 'Miles should be applauded for telling their stories so compellingly, and for giving us such a detailed insight into their everyday lives. (SCOTSMAN)
An insider's account of the drama of Muslim women's lives in EgyptSee all Product description
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Miles lets us in through the back door to eavesdrop on young middle-class Egyptian women talking about their lives. And their lives aren't easy: they have to cope with authoritarian husbands and brothers; one of them is addicted to prescription drugs; another is suffering from the after-effects of botched plastic surgery.
It's not all hardship, however. We also learn about their hopes, dreams, secret lovers and, above all, their friendships with each other which sustain them.
A consummate journalist, Miles lets the people he's writing about, people whose voices are rarely heard, speak for themselves.
This is an important and groundbreaking book.
Incidents that happen around the women in this group become the hooks on which Hugh Miles can hang accounts of other aspects of Egypt and of Cairo life which he has covered as a journalist. So, for example, the reference to one brother, a policeman who has been sent to work in a prison (where he actually respects the pious and educated Islamists who are often held for months or years simply on suspicion) leads to a description of the horrific conditions in Egyptian prisons. The horrors of compulsory military service are hardly less: "the military regards fewer than one in four men killed in training as an acceptable fatality rate." There are descriptions of the huge difficulties of many people, even educated ones, have to find jobs, even though the Egyptian civil service is massively overmanned, with four or five people doing jobs which could easily be done by one person.
He is fond of the women he meets in Roda's home; but, not surprisingly, he is not fond of Egypt.
But the card games of the title (which enabled Hugh Miles to meet and fall in love with an Egyptian girl) are just a device, the narrative key to a treasure trove of stories about the lives and loves of women in Muslim society. The result is a compassionate book, very funny at times and truly shocking at others, which provides an outstanding documentary insight into a topic that is a mystery to most of us in the west, and it would seem, a taboo subject for many Muslim men.
The characters and relationships illustrate the difficulties that Egyptian women face (such as trying to find a suitable boy while under the vigilant discipline of one's own family) and - brilliantly and wonderfully - how they rise above those problems. The women's ingenuity and spirit as they subtly resist and defy their own fathers and brothers is inspiring and moving.
Miles had a privileged insider's view because the girl he fell in love with was unusually free of family ties and thus more able than most to associate with a foreign man. The women whose stories he tells are literate, metropolitan and relatively liberal, and I am sure that there are millions of women who have an even tougher time in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world.
This is a stunning, informative, insider's look at real lives in a society that I knew almost nothing about. Miles has unlocked the secrets and I will never feel the same again when I see a woman in a headscarf.
It's an easy read and a real page-turner taking me nearly three days to finish. I quite enjoyed sitting around the cards' table with the gang and listening in to what was going on in the girls' heads.
It is beautifully written and gives genuine insider's views on the lives of Egyptians today.
Playing Cards in Cairo is a true outlook of real encouters of many families - Hugh Miles has done an excellent piece of work once again; this time by integrating a more personal experience making it more real for the reader.
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