Light of My Eye

Paula Jacques
  • Review
By – October 27, 2011

Like the cacoph­o­nous sound of the streets of Cairo, Light of My Eye,is a noisy and crowd­ed nov­el: crowd­ed with themes, fam­i­ly mem­bers, and­po­lit­i­cal upris­ings. While it would appear that this is a sto­ry ofex­ile, and the repet­i­tive men­tion of the word wan­der­er” would­sub­stan­ti­ate this claim, it is just as much a sto­ry of grow­ing pains:troubled famil­ial rela­tion­ships, the coex­is­tence of Arabs and Jews, and­of a com­mu­ni­ty of females in a man’s world. 

On the sim­plest lev­el, Light of My Eye is the­com­ing-of-age sto­ry of Mona Cas­tro, a Jew­ish child grow­ing up in Cairoin the 1950’s. Writ­ing in shift­ing points of view, Jacques tells thesto­ry of Mona’s dys­func­tion­al rela­tion­ship with her moth­er, Rebec­ca, and­of her almost Oedi­pal love for her father. Nei­ther moth­er nor daugh­teris a like­able char­ac­ter: Rebec­ca is nar­cis­sis­tic, self­ish, and nos­tal­gic­to a fault; Mona is self-absorbed, inno­cent, and often cruel.Throughout the nov­el, the two are con­tin­u­al­ly embroiled in bat­tles, each­seek­ing allies and each desirous of uncon­di­tion­al love. 

With these char­ac­ter descrip­tions in mind, and the veryjux­ta­po­si­tion of scenes— chap­ters detail­ing fam­i­ly argu­ments next tochap­ters describ­ing polit­i­cal takeovers — cou­pled with Jacques’intentional shifts in points of view and their place­ment in the novel,there is per­haps a sub­tle sub­text here. It may well be that Rebec­ca isJacques’ embod­i­ment of Egypt’s past and Mona, its present and future. Ifthat is the case, Light of My Eye is clever and cohesive.

Malv­ina D. Engel­berg, an inde­pen­dent schol­ar, has taught com­po­si­tion and lit­er­a­ture at the uni­ver­si­ty lev­el for the past fif­teen years. She is a Ph.D. can­di­date at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Miami.

Discussion Questions