Author: Olfet Agrama
A novel that immerses one immediately in visceral emotion and historical time period, At the Crossroad follows four young Egyptians in British occupied Egypt under the rule of a king being ousted. The year is 1952, and a military revolution is imminent. From the role women are forced to play, to the patriarchal demands on men, the themes of love, family, obedience, loyalty and individualism these characters intertwine within and around the politics of a war torn Egypt. Thoroughly unique and well written, Agrama depicts an Egypt that is swarming with change and religious ideology. Women are still under Moslem rule by their men, and yet all four characters rebel in their own ways even as they adhere to their own version of patriarchy. The men too are imprisoned within the manacles or political and Moslem law. As they reach toward each other each couple self destructs.
Nadia is 18 and beautiful, and her family is Moslem. Her family wants to marry her off in an arranged marriage for a big dowry, as is the custom. When Nadia starts sneaking out to see Sammy, she feels that she loves him and has to have him. Nadia manipulates her family into accepting the marriage after Sammy forces himself on her sexually. She believes she is in love, but Nadia finally figures out how to love herself first.
Melanie, with a British mother and an Egyptian father is lost. She is Nadia’s only friend. Melanie’s mother has left her and gone to England, and her father does not care what she does. Melanie suffers from and hides her schizophrenia from everyone. When she finishes school, she joins a folklore dance group and becomes a star. And then she meets a very religious Moslem, Hassan. As her life with Hassan explodes, Melanie explodes along with it.
Sammy, brought up in England, wants to marry a rich beautiful Moslem and Nadia becomes his obsession. Handsome, charismatic and a promising medical student, Sammy lures Nadia into his trap. They are married in a traditional and huge wedding ceremony and Sammy joins the army medical corps. He finds he hates being a poor doctor and finds himself making movies and becoming a wild success. He and Nadia have a son and yet Nadia is never enough for Sammy and his infidelities with starlets and any pretty woman finally break Nadia’s love for him. As Nadia finds herself, she becomes aware of her disgust for Sammy and plans her own life with her son and unborn child.
Hassan believes that Moslem is his heritage, his life and his religion. He marries Melanie and abuses her in the name of Islam. He becomes embroiled in politics and becomes sadistic to Melanie, who loses all will to live.
As Agrama brings these two couples into sharp focus, she illustrates the religious and political tension afloat in 1950s and 1960s Egypt. The novel is written from each protagonist’s point of view and Agrama’s main theme is the loss of selfhood for Moslem women. However, Moslem men also lose themselves in the strict rules that insist that women are invisible.
An interesting read.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A”
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own
AT THE CROSSROAD is available on Amazon.com as well as booksellers nationwide.