What We Are Reading Today: The Shoe Shiners by Aishah Al-Dowsari

Updated 08 June 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: The Shoe Shiners by Aishah Al-Dowsari

  • This is an inspirational story that encourages readers to pursue their own dreams despite the hardships one may face

Masihoo Al-Ahziya (The Shoe Shiners), a novel by Aishah Al-Dowsari published in 2013, tells the story of three shoe shiners on the streets of Beirut, Lebanon, and the extraordinary experiences that change their lives for the better.

Ziyad, Walid and Sarkis embark on voyages of self-discovery, discovering their passions and true calling along the way, and work hard to make their dreams come true despite coming from a tough background of humiliation, torment and degradation because of their occupation. Ziyad, for example, leaves his family behind and travels in search of better job opportunities to Saudi Arabia, where he is introduced to a different culture, society and way of life.

This is an inspirational story that encourages readers to pursue their own dreams despite the hardships one may face.

It is also an interesting read because of its use of both the Saudi and Lebanese dialects, and evident cultural colors.


‘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.