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Underground in Cairo

from graphic novel guest blogger, Francisca Goldsmith:

Magdy El Shafee, who edits a comics journal for youth, shows great skill in crafting his own graphic novel here.  Looking at contemporary Cairo through the eyes of a young Everyman, readers can nearly smell the superheated subway cars (see the official transit map), feel the hairs on the napes of the necks rising as dark alleys approach or fat businessmen allow entry into their worlds, and hear the din of cell phones erupting in the street crowds.  There is even a passage in which El Shafee elegantly incorporates a cartoon sequence by another familiar-to-Egyptians cartoonist. There is little need for side explanations—beyond what the translator has offered in his helpful forward—even for those for whom contemporary Cairo is a world away.  Because El Shafee knows exactly how to craft anti-heroes and their relationships to show us Cairo from North America, we are absorbed into the story without hampered perception. This is a special power of fine graphic novels: to cross borders and cultures and bring the reader along without her feeling a moment’s sense of distance.

EL SHAFEE, Magdy. Metro: A Story of Cairo. Tr. from Arabic by Chip Rossetti. illus. by author. 112p. Metropolitan. 2012. pap. $20. ISBN 978-0-8050-9488-6. LC 2012007732.  Metro e1338746877686 Underground in Cairo

Adult/High School–El Shafee, who has other sequential art publishing to his credit, shows his experience with the idioms of the format and offers his front-row observations of the decay of Egyptian society under the weight of political and capitalist corruption. Using Cairo’s subway system as the visual and setting frame for the activities of the plot, he tells a hardboiled story that illustrates the facts: angry young Shehab devises a plan for ripping off millions and evading detection, taking his pal Mustapha into confidence and talking the more-careful man into going along with the scheme. While the details involved in this plot are complex without being complicated or difficult to follow, it is the rich visual and dialogue-carried exposé of the politics and dangers of daily life in contemporary Cairo that mold this book into a unique, insightful, and truly dangerous story; it was banned when first published in Egypt in 2008. The careful translation includes information about such cultural references as ring tones from characters’ cell phones, while the text flows in uninhibited and literary English. El Shafee’s images vary from widely variegated shadings to faint pencil sketches (showing a blind man’s view) and black-and-white silhouettes. An excellent piece of literature, art, and culturally cogent reporting from within a society usually seen here only through foreign journalists’ perceptions.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA

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Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.

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