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Evel Knievel Days

by Pauls Toutonghi

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394517,632 (3.85)1
Feeling out of place in a Montana home where nobody can pronounce his name, Khosi Saqr travels to Cairo in search of his father and a connection to his heritage before discovering lessons about belonging, family, and culture.

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4.5 stars. I am not sure I can explain exactly why I liked this book so much. It's about a 20 year old man, who suffers from OCD, living in Butte, Montana, working at an old mining baron museum. He is the product of a broken marriage, with an Egyptian father, who deserted his family with a crushing gambling debt. Khosi Saqr goes to Cairo to track down his father, and discovers much. It has elements of fantasy (ghosts), culture and cooking, deep familial love, regrets, physical and mental illnesses, and humor. Kudos to Toutonghi for writing such a richly rewarding book. Also, a spectacular cover -- should have been a 2012 award winner. Highly recommended. ( )
  skipstern | Jul 11, 2021 |
I won this book through the first-reads program.

What first drew my attention to [b:Evel Knievel Days|13153264|Evel Knievel Days A Novel|Pauls Toutonghi|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1333576486s/13153264.jpg|18331428] was that it took place (partially) in Butte, Montana. Butte drew my attention. I lived in Montana for a while, Bozeman to be exact, and went to Butte several times. I had a good time reading [a:Pauls Toutonghi|74411|Pauls Toutonghi|http://www.goodreads.com/assets/nophoto/nophoto-U-50x66.jpg]'s descriptions of Butte, and the general point of view that people in Montana tend to hold of the world. It made me miss Bozeman a ton, let me say.

[b:Evel Knievel Days|13153264|Evel Knievel Days A Novel|Pauls Toutonghi|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1333576486s/13153264.jpg|18331428] was about a lot more than just Montana. It was about heritage, and Egypt - family relations, and integrity... it was about figuring out your place in the world and coming to terms with yourself.

The book was engaging, and the language vibrant. I found myself laughing more than once at the clever turns of phrase used, and in particular, how difficult it can be to convey ideas in a non-native language. [a:Pauls Toutonghi|74411|Pauls Toutonghi|http://www.goodreads.com/assets/nophoto/nophoto-U-50x66.jpg] did a wonderful job of bridging the gap between two very diverse cultures and finding common ground in human experience. He also did a darn good job of making one feel what it's like to be obsessive compulsive and have panic attacks.

I don't normally read books about Middle Eastern cultures, and found this one extremely accessible. The streets of Cairo, and the nearly transcendent experience of cooking a complex meal were conveyed in an almost informal language that made one experience the actions as if they were your own. I found the book a very interesting read, and know some people I'd love to pass it on to from my Montana days. I think, more than anything else, [a:Pauls Toutonghi|74411|Pauls Toutonghi|http://www.goodreads.com/assets/nophoto/nophoto-U-50x66.jpg] portrayed the interest and intelligence with which Montanan's learn about other cultures. :) ( )
  Lepophagus | Jun 14, 2018 |
Twenty-something Khosi Saqr knows every nook of Butte — and has never really imagined venturing beyond its borders. Growing up as the biracial son of a white American mother and an Egyptian father, Khosi’s relationship with his mom has been greatly altered — and strengthened — by the absence of his father.

After Pops takes off to stay one step ahead of the disreputable folks to whom he owes gambled cash, Khosi has been his mother’s emotional support system for decades. He’s focused on his job at a historic estate and managed to navigate his two worlds — the American one, the mysterious Egyptian one — and created an identity for himself. But when his dad reappears in Montana after twenty years away, running off before Khosi even gets a hard look at the man, his forgotten son will embark on a once-in-a-lifetime journey.

So, Evel Knievel Days is both a unique and a familiar story. Equal parts coming-of-age story and exploration of heritage, Toutonghi’s novel is unlike anything I’ve read before — and even successfully managed to weave an element of magical realism into an otherwise grounded tale. Though very specific to Khosi’s divided existence, the novel still holds universal appeal. I read it quickly and eagerly, admiring the author’s ability to assemble such a diverse but memorable cast.

Here we have Khosi, a funny and erudite young man who spends a whole lotta time with his complicated mother, and he’s this slightly awkward, awesome narrator you can’t help but love. His (mostly) unrequited crush on his childhood best friend, Natasha, shows us he’s more than capable of love — but his tenuous connection to his father and the Egyptian culture makes him feel quite “in between.” Toutonghi allows Khosi to be known to readers without slamming us with too many details — and I appreciated the way we’re given just enough information about what our main man is thinking.

So where does Evel Knievel come into all this? Khosi is an obsessive-compulsive who must find it in himself to take the largest plunge of his life: running off to finally come face-to-face with his ne’er-do-well father. Making that trip is the biggest, scariest leap of his life — and like Butte’s favorite son, Khosi must stare into the chasm, face his fear . . . and do it anyway. Khosi’s connection to the famous daredevil felt authentic and well-explored, and I liked that Toutonghi had just enough references to Knievel to tie it together but kept it from getting schlocky.

Though I was a little stumped by the introduction of a ghost/hallucination in the middle of the narrative, it’s obvious that Khosi’s divided heritage is central to the plot. Well-paced and thought-provoking, Evel Knievel Days raised some interesting questions about family, love and connection, and I’d heartily recommend it to fans of literary and contemporary fiction. Plus? Totally allows for some awesome armchair traveling! ( )
  writemeg | Feb 26, 2013 |
By Pauls Toutonghi
Crown Publishers (Random House), 293 pgs
Rating: 3.5

"Egyptian cooking is folk magic. Not magic in the sense of dematerializing doves or sawing beautiful ladies in half. But magic in the deeper sense of the thing - in the raw joy of what magic once was, hundreds of years ago, thousands of years ago: a surprise, a shock, an astonishment. A lesson about the invisible. A lesson about belief." So begins chapter one.

Khosi Saqr has lived all of his 23 years in Butte, Montana. He was raised by his intermittently emotionally stable mother after his Egyptian father fled to Egypt with a Las Vegas loan shark at his heels. Khosi is an introvert with a few compulsions of his own. His father reappears after many years of no contact, requesting a divorce and then vanishing as quickly as he appeared, and the love of Khosi's young life announces she will marry someone else, so Khosi decamps for Egypt in search of his father, family, culture and connection; looking for the place where he might belong.

As it turned out, finding his father was the easy part. The more difficult parts include: second wives, aunts, grandmothers, terrorists, polo ponies, theft of antiquities, more loan sharks, yellow fever and the sudden arrival of his mother in the middle of all of this. Somehow all of this mess is sorted through and put in their places. And so is Khosi. He finds what he was looking for: identity. Even if it didn't find it in the way he thought he would or the place where he thought it would be.

Pauls Toutonghi won the Pushcart Prize for the novel Red Weather. He teaches at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. For more please see: PAULSTOUTONGHI.WORDPRESS.COM

For more information on the publisher please see: www.crownpublishing.com ( )
  TexasBookLover | Oct 22, 2012 |
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Feeling out of place in a Montana home where nobody can pronounce his name, Khosi Saqr travels to Cairo in search of his father and a connection to his heritage before discovering lessons about belonging, family, and culture.

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