Book review: Revolution through the eyes of a hesitant change-maker

Donia Kamal’s writing is even-tempered and her narrative is rooted in history, making for a captivating read. (Photo supplied)
Updated 30 May 2018
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Book review: Revolution through the eyes of a hesitant change-maker

  • “Cigarette Number Seven” by Donia Kamal is a carefully paced novel about a young woman whose life has revolved around a non-traditional upbringing
  • Kamal’s writing is even-tempered and her narrative is rooted in history, making for a captivating read.

CHICAGO: “Cigarette Number Seven” by Donia Kamal is a carefully paced novel about a young woman whose life has revolved around a non-traditional upbringing that has led her to the edge of the Egyptian revolution in Cairo. Joining in with the sit-ins at Tahrir Square and taking care of her father, Nadia’s life crescendos and decrescendos from significance into apathy as she looks back at everything that has brought her to this point in life.

Author Donia Kamal is a novelist and producer. She has an extensive history of producing documentaries and television shows in the Middle East. “Cigarette Number Seven” is her second novel, which was first published in Arabic by Dar Merit in 2012. The novel was translated into English by Nariman Youssef, who translates fiction, poetry, song lyrics, and even the 2012 Egyptian constitution draft, and published in 2018 by Hoopoe, an imprint of the American University in Cairo Press.

Kamal’s narrator, Nadia, remembers small details of her past, but never the full picture. She remembers Umm Kulthum playing on the radio while her grandmother cooks in a fifth-floor apartment. Nadia remembers the smell of coffee brewing, onions being cut and garlic being peeled, but not much about anything else, least of all her mother who leaves her in her grandparents’ care when she moves to the Gulf to find work.

Nadia moves in with her activist father after her grandmother dies and it is with him that her life begins to take shape. Thus begins her time as a revolutionary. Although Nadia feels conscious, convinced her voice is too thin to appeal to anyone, she marches with her father and friends.
Kamal’s book offers an individual perspective of the Egyptian revolution. Through her main character, Nadia, and her father, Kamal is able to pinpoint what it is in ordinary people’s lives that brought them out to protest and demonstrate. Kamal reveals how the zealous atmosphere helps to keep them motivated. Even after violent encounters, there is a collective spirit that cannot be broken, as Kamal writes: “Still, the spirit of the square was like a magic balm over these wounds. The square was mighty and clear. It had power and influence and spirit… With unbelievable continuity it pushed us to carry through what we were doing.”
Kamal’s writing is even-tempered and her narrative is rooted in history, making for a captivating read.


What We Are Reading Today: How to Fall Slower Than Gravity

Updated 14 November 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: How to Fall Slower Than Gravity

Author: Paul J. Nahin

Paul Nahin is a master at explaining odd phenomena through straightforward mathematics. In this collection of 26 intriguing problems, he explores how mathematical physicists think. Always entertaining, the problems range from ancient catapult conundrums to the puzzling physics of a very peculiar kind of glass called NASTYGLASS— and from dodging trucks to why raindrops fall slower than the rate of gravity. The questions raised may seem impossible to answer at first and may require an unexpected twist in reasoning, but sometimes their solutions are surprisingly simple. Nahin’s goal, however, is always to guide readers— who will need only to have studied advanced high school math and physics— in expanding their mathematical thinking to make sense of the curiosities of the physical world.
The problems are in the first part of the book and the solutions are in the second, so that readers may challenge themselves to solve the questions on their own before looking at the explanations. The problems show how mathematics — including algebra, trigonometry, geometry, and calculus — can be united with physical laws to solve both real and theoretical problems.

Historical anecdotes woven throughout the book bring alive the circumstances and people involved in some amazing discoveries and achievements.
More than a puzzle book, this work will immerse you in the delights of scientific history while honing your math skills.
Paul J. Nahin is the author of many popular math books, including In Praise of Simple Physics, Dr. Euler’s Fabulous Formula, and An Imaginary Tale (all Princeton).