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Only in London by Hanan Al-Shaykh

Only in London (2001)

by Hanan Al-Shaykh

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A novel about an Iraqi woman in London, written by a Lebanese woman in London. Both the Arabic novel and this English translation appeared in 2001.

There are four characters who meet for the first time on a Dubai-London flight: Lamis is the beautiful, shy Iraqi who recently divorced her wealthy husband. Nicholas, an Englishman, has just been in the Emirates appraising fine Arab daggers for Sotheby’s. Amira, from Morocco, earns her living from (let us say) the generosity of traveling Arab businessmen. Finally, Samir is a transvestite from Lebanon who has let himself be talked into smuggling a monkey into the United Kingdom.

The characterizations seemed a bit broad to my wife, who read the book first, but they made sense to me. After all, the Arab characters are coping with the alien environment of London, floundering at times like a typical American in Cairo or Damascus.

The novel is well constructed, and punctuated by heartfelt portraits of women living in seclusion or under constraint. There is also some pointed satire, esp. connected to Amira’s get-rich scheme. (I feel sure that this novel is banned in Saudi Arabia.)
  Muscogulus | Jun 24, 2014 |
This novel concerns four people, three of them Arabs living in London, and an Englishman fascinated by Arabian artefacts. It looked quite promising, with its cast of interesting characters – none of the Arabs conform to stereotypes: one is a divorced woman, one a prostitute, the third is a transvestite who hangs out with a monkey.

It’s hard to describe why I found it a difficult read. It isn’t badly written, and interesting things happen throughout. But I think it was the randomness of the whole thing, and the abrupt endings of some of the sections that made it a bumpy ride. The central trunk of the story sent off so many tributary branches but few had more than a few pages invested in them. I would have liked to learn more about, say, Nicholas’s parents – they were intriguing (he calls them by their first names, and his dad is a vicar and thinks it would be a good idea for him to try to convert some of his friends in the Gulf...!!??). Nicholas, too....was he supposed to be a typical Englishman? Because I’d say his sexual practices alone would make him odd in the eyes of most Brits.

Not a totally positive reading experience for me, and I sense there was a deeper meaning to the whole thing that I missed. But I wouldn’t rule out reading more by this author who covers ground other authors don’t. ( )
  jayne_charles | Dec 27, 2012 |
Unimpressive. ( )
  nessreendiana | Mar 16, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385721218, Paperback)

Four strangers meet on a turbulent flight from Dubai to London: Amira, a canny Moroccan prostitute; Lamis, a 30-year old Iraqi divorcee; Nicholas, an English expert on Islamic art; and Samir, a Lebanese man who is delivering a monkey on a mission he doesn’t fully understand. Once safely on British soil, Lamis and Nicholas fall in love, Samir chases after blond British youths, and Amira reinvents herself as a princess, the better to lure clients at the best London hotels. Through the city and across cultural borders, Only in London wittily portrays the smells, sounds, and sights of London’s lively Arab neighorhoods, as well as the freedoms the city both offers and withholds from its immigrants.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:46 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

On a flight from Dubai to London, a sudden turbulence throws together four people from different corners of the Arab world and after the plane lands, their lives remain entwined as they seek love and liberty in London's burgeoning Arab community.

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