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Reviewed by Melinda Hills for Readers' Favorite
The mark of a good book is that it gives you something to think about. That is certainly the case with In the Heart of Cairo by Mahi Wasfy. Over the span of roughly six months, the values of the American School in Cairo, a new teacher, and students of the senior class are examined as Western and Arabic influences clash. Mrs. Magda has been hired to bring the school in line with diversity and bi-cultural expectations that the administration impedes at every turn. This is mirrored by the emotions of Maha, a traditional Egyptian student who feels as though her culture is continually marginalized by the growing trend of Westernization that places more value on things and popularity than family and traditional beliefs. Both Mrs. Magda and Maha struggle with trying to fit in and be happy while remaining true to their core values in spite of what is happening all around them.
The beauty of In the Heart of Cairo is that it speaks to the inner truth of each person, regardless of national background or religious affiliation. It celebrates the value of every life and the expression of that value through love, family ties, and the desire to be a valuable part of a community instead of being better than the one in which you live.
Mahi Wasfy does a wonderful job of distinguishing between fundamental beliefs and extremism, and shows that extremism exists in different forms – forcing traditional ideas on other people as well as adopting some other life goal that makes you turn your back on the very things that truly make a life worth living. In the Heart of Cairo is not only an insightful cultural study, it is a solid example of the importance of examining one’s own life and finding peace and value in it.