What We Are Reading Today: Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan

Updated 31 May 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan

This week, a rare breed of thrill-seekers gathered on a tiny remote Fijian island in the South Pacific.

Among them were some of the most prominent names in big-wave surfing.

The congregation had tracked a purple blob on the swell forecasting models as it pulsed out from a fierce storm in the Southern Ocean, destined to strike a slab of coral reef known as Cloudbreak.

First the images, and then the videos, started to filter out on to social media.

Tiny figures crouched low on their surfboards, dwarfed by and encased in towering caverns of deep blue water.

For one day, the surfers caught some of the biggest waves ever surfed at Cloudbreak.

The scenes were a far cry from when William Finnegan arrived at the island in 1978, following a tip-off from a yacht that had passed by and reported a perfect surf break.

Finnegan was among the first to surf there and spent weeks camped on the nearest island, cut off from civilization and indulging in his obsession.

That obsession is the focus of his brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir “Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life.”

The book fills the reader with youthful wanderlust, explains the strange intricacies of the cult of surfing and reminds of a time when the world still held some unexplored corners.


‘Tales of Yusuf Tadrus’ — the story of a struggling artist with bills to pay

Updated 20 June 2018
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‘Tales of Yusuf Tadrus’ — the story of a struggling artist with bills to pay

  • Esmat’s novel is a glimpse into the life of an artist, his constant attempt to merge imagination with reality and the life of a Coptic-Christian in Egypt

CHICAGO: Winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2016, Adel Esmat’s “Tales of Yusuf Tadrus” is the story of a young man from the city of Tanta that sits in the Nile Delta. Yusuf struggles to find a balance between his dream of oil painting, canvases and light with his reality of teaching English, providing for a family and attempting to understand where he stands in the world. 

Esmat’s novel is a glimpse into the life of an artist, his constant attempt to merge imagination with reality and the life of a Coptic-Christian in Egypt.

Beginning every chapter with “Yusuf Tadrus Says,” Esmat delves deep into the life of his protagonist, a young man whose very birth leaves him uneasy in life. Knowing his mother had not intended on having children and had devoted her life to God, Yusuf believes he is destined to be extraordinary and embarks on a complicated journey in art and life.

Esmat’s portrayal of Yusuf’s struggle is intimate and detailed. Yusuf is an extremely introspective, introverted character, whose world clashes with his art as it takes him from Tanta to Alexandria, back to Tanta and as far as Al-Tur.

Esmat insightfully narrates an incredible story of struggle and longing. He paints a picture of Egypt, especially Tanta, of the alley where Yusuf grew up on Ghayath Al-Din Street and his family life, his mother who collects contributions for the Holy Bible Association, and his father, Khawaga Tadrus Bushra, donning a Saidi jallabeya, a skullcap and a white scarf as he sells dry beans and seeds. Yusuf spends his childhood riding his bicycle with friends, collecting contributions with his mother, experiencing the Six-Day War and winning a painting competition that brings him to the Palace of Culture on Al-Bahr Street where he learns to draw and, eventually, paint.

Esmat creates in Yusuf a multifaceted character who is both the protagonist and antagonist in his own story, tormented between a dream and reality against the backdrop of an unforgiving society.