Khosi Saqr is an all-American boy, growing up in Butte, and a descendant of William Andrews Clark, the copper-mining king who put the Montana city on the world map.
Classifying Toutonghi’s (Red Weather, 2007) second novel as a coming-of-age tale sells this superb literary effort short. For example, Khosi may be a great-great-grandson of the copper king, but he also is the son of ne’er-do-well Akram Saqr, a Coptic Christian Egyptian who seduced Amy Clark, married her and presented her staid and prosperous parents with a grandson who looked “like a tiny Yasir Arafat.” Such is the wry humor spicing up Khosi’s story. When Khosi was a toddler, Akram departed for Egypt, leaving behind his family and significant gambling debts. Now in his early 20s, Khosi still lives with his mother in a run-down Victorian they call Loving Shambles, where she operates a catering business specializing in mid-Eastern cuisine and he contemplates the heroics of Evel Knievel.
Thanks to the Internet, Khosi is an autodidact, more literate and sophisticated than his college-graduate contemporaries. He works as a guide at the historical Copper King Mansion, frequents the Berkeley Pit Yacht Club, a country music bar with a sawdust floor, and indulges his OCD compulsions. He also pines for his lifelong friend Natasha Mariner, recently engaged to a preppie. Such is Khosi’s life until his father returns from Egypt. After 20 years, he wants Amy to sign divorce papers.
To everyone’s disbelief, Khosi decides to follow Akram back to Egypt. “I needed to track down this missing part of my story, this vanished and fugitive sector of my genealogy, this dim adumbration of my family’s lost past.” With writing both gently ironical and outright funny, the author’s extraordinary talent draws readers into the world of Butte and Cairo. More entertainingly, his characters are both believable and appealing, especially Khosi’s Egyptian aunts, their drill-sergeant housekeeper and the everyday people he meets.
Brilliantly imagined. Artfully written. Superbly entertaining.