Thursday, October 24, 2013

Murder in the Tower of Happiness-M.M. Tawfik

Murder in the Tower of Happiness-M.M. Tawfik

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 340
gender: M
nationality: Egypt
year: 2003
Novel in translation (author's own)

When the first armchair smashed into the asphalt, Sergeant Ashmouni was at his usual spot on the median of the Nile Corniche, trapped by the road's twin currents turbulently flowing forth to Maadi and back to Old Cairo. He was wiping the sweat away from his eyes with his worn out sleeve - and in the process adding a new stain to his white traffic-police uniform - when surprise from the thunderous impact catapulted him into the fast lane of the side of the road closest to the Nile.' Thus opens this fast-paced city thriller laced with dry humor that takes us inside Borg al-Saada-'Tower of Happiness,' one of the luxury high-rises planted like alien bodies amid the fields along the Nile south of Cairo - and inside the sordid lives and lavish lifestyles of its super-rich and famous denizens.The naked, strangled body of Ahlam, a beautiful young actress, is discovered in one of the elevators, and as the police investigation gets under way, we meet many of the tower's strange characters

This was a whirlwind of a novel I'm not sure I understood entirely. This was kind of like Thursday Night Widows for an Egyptian setting but much more focused upon the murder itself from three views- a (female) journalist, a sergeant implicated in it, and a 'psychic' benefitting from it. But that doesn't even really begin to give you a sense of the whole thing as this was also a ghost story, full of thwarted love stories, random side stories, corruption, and the value of innocence. I was left wondering, sometimes, whether I enjoyed Thursday Night Widows so much because it was a culture I could recognize and Murder in the Tower of Happiness was so much more work because I have no personal view into Egyptian (or Arabic for that matter) culture. The actual whodunit is resolved relatively early and that was understandable-it was the supernatural that really threw me for a loop.

This is an ambitious novel full of twists and turns, secrets, with a large cast of characters that manages to seem successful and unsuccessful at the same time. The details are great and the scenes are enjoyable but the overall picture is a bit too convoluted. The story devolves or perhaps, rather, moves away from narrative (which everyone knows is so tiresome) into a sort of prose poetry culminating with a related but separate short story to serve as resolution creating a mishmosh of styles that don't completely jive together. Still definitely worth a read.

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