The View from Garden City follows six Egyptian Muslim women: Huda, Karima, Selwa, Samira, Yusriyya, and Afkar. The novel is told from the point of view of an American student living in Cairo, but the reader never learns much about the narrator. Instead, the focus is on the different women the narrator meets and their unique stories. Sometimes their tales are horrific, at other times tragic, and sometimes they can be joyful. Some of these women of different ages and from different backgrounds are related; some the narrator meets by chance. Each story provides a glimpse into Egyptian culture, though Baugh makes clear that these tales are not necessarily characteristic of Muslims, or even all Egyptians. Instead, each story is simply a look at one individual woman’s life, a retrospective of her joys, challenges and failures in life – and of what she has been forced to endure.
Often, the literary style of multiple points of view brings with it serious weakness: not all the stories have equal merit, and some stories end up being more interesting than others. In this case, however, each tale is as captivating as the next. Every character is incredibly well-written and easy to sympathize with, though the reader is only acquainted with them for a brief period of time. Though these women are all Egyptian Muslims and certain themes reappear throughout the tales, each story is crafted completely uniquely, making becoming absorbed in the singular world of each of these women easy.
Carolyn Baugh’s words flow like water, even and supple, washing over the reader with their luminescence. Even the most painful moments are cloaked in this smooth language, and in this way, Baugh keeps her novel from being heavy. Yes, some very serious subjects are discussed in the novel – these women have not led easy lives. But the novel never becomes difficult to read, never becomes a weight for the reader. That is quite an accomplishment for a debut novelist.
The beautiful descriptions in The View from Garden City inspire the imagination. Like the narrator, the author was a student at the American University in Cairo. It is clear that she is evoking her memories of the city and through her rich details, placing them into the mind of the reader as well. The reader to close his or her eyes and imagine being in Cairo with the narrator.
The View from Garden City is, at its core, a novel about women, beautifully written and enhanced by the amazingly detailed descriptions of life in modern Cairo. Baugh doesn’t preach or have any sort of nefarious intentions but leaves the reader to make up his or her own mind about the message of the novel and of each of the stories. Very easy to read and enjoy, The View from Garden City can’t be recommended highly enough.