[Following is the official OnlineBookClub.org review of "FROM FEAST TO FAMINE" by Butros HANNA.]
From Feast to Famine is a family saga written by Butros Hanna.
It is a well-written work which encapsulates the lives of upper-class Egyptians from the early 1920's through the military coup in the early 1950’s which saw Nasser’s installation as dictator, and beyond. It traces the tumultous political history of Egypt through revolution, land reform and war. From Feast to Famine is an account of Egyptian history told through the saga of the Wahba family, as the ever-changing politics of Egypt throughout the 20th century test the family's perseverance as their fortunes, materially and otherwise, dwindle. The narrative centers around the life of the Wahba family patriarch, Farid, from his marriage to Jeannette, and through the lives of his children, with special emphasis placed on Yousef (otherwise known as Joseph), who is the protagonist of the second half of the book.
Besides the immensely interesting history, Hanna provides cultural insight as well, detailing Coptic as well as Muslim traditions. For those interested in history and exploring foreign cultures from a personal perspective, From Feast to Famine is a good fit. Each chapter explores different members of the Wahba family, using anecdotes or vignettes to document the lives of the Wahba family, rather than strictly obeying chronological order. While this makes the story a bit more complicated to follow, as the chapters tend to overlap each other with respect to chronology, I don't see how the book could have been written any other way. The shorter vignettes also make the book a very enjoyable read, far preferable and far more insightful than reading a dry, impersonal history of 20th century Egypt.
It was clear that the narrator had mixed emotions regarding the Europeanizaton of Egypt. Rather than regarding Europeanized Egyptians with disdain, the narrator employed gentle mockery over sententious reproach. "He was an Old Victorian, as those who had been to Victoria College liked to call themselves in their relentless effort to imitate British customs."
I give it 3 out of 4 stars
, deducting one star because there are a number of typographical errors.
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