What We Are Reading Today: The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood

Updated 08 June 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood

Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood has long been the doyenne of post-apocalyptic fiction. But as society becomes ever more mired in global concerns such as the march of AI, data theft and hyper-capitalism, Atwood’s ideas, which were once viewed as fanciful dystopian notions of the future, now appear as uncomfortable harbingers of a more-than-plausible reality.

In the first 10 pages of The Heart Goes Last, married couple Stan and Charmaine are living in their car in what has become a lost rustbelt America. A whole generation is trying to stay afloat in the midst of economic and social collapse. So when they see an advertisement for The Positron Project in the town of Consilience — a social experiment offering stable jobs and a home of their own — they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for this suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month, swapping their home for a prison cell. What could possibly go wrong?

Atwood artfully navigates the reader through an exhilarating journey into a world where the values of autonomy and self-identity have been blithely swapped for home comforts. Atwood asks: “Sustenance, but at what cost?” Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust and guilt take over and Positron looks less like a dream and more like a chilling prophecy.


‘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.