Lyrics Alley is the story of a Sudanese family set in the 1950s before and during Sudan independence. Mahmoud Bey, patriarch of the powerful Abuzeid dynasty has two wives: Waheeba, a traditional Sudanese woman and Nabilah, a much younger modern woman from Egypt. Mahmoud has 3 sons: Nassir, Nur (mom: Waheeba), Farouk (mom: Nabilah) and a daughter, Ferial (mom: Nabilah).
At the heart of this family saga is Nur and Soraya‘s (his cousin) love story with passages to Waheeba and Nabilah rivalry; Mahmoud Bey business endeavors; Nassir delinquency; Mahmoud’s brother and business partner, Idris, an archaic father; Ustaz Badr, and his family, a devout Muslim and the children’s arabic teacher.
The first chapters follow the daily life of this family with their problems and concerns until their life shifts when Nur suffers a near-fatal injury. The story becomes a bit slow towards the middle and I didn’t really like the jumps to the chapters describing Ustaz Badr family problems. It was a bit lengthy and it didn’t add to the main plot. But the story picks up again and the last few chapters make the book hard to put down. The author is really brilliant when it comes to describing places and atmosphere, at some point you feel that you can smell the air and feel the heat of Sudan summer nights.
I mostly sympathized with Soraya character who loved reading and insisted on having a full education despite her father’s objections. I also loved how the cultural differences between Sudan and Egypt were portrayed in the characters of Waheeba and Nabilah.
The novel was inspired by the life of Hassan Awad Aboulela, the author’s uncle, a poet, although she changed many elements of the story (including settings and characters) in order to create a fictional work instead of a biography of him.
The book might get a bit boring sometimes but it is totally worth reading.