Review: 'Evel Knievel Days'

In Pauls Toutonghi's novel, the main character travels from Butte, Mont., to Cairo, hoping to connect with his Egyptian father.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Butte, Montana is the hometown of daredevil Evel Knievel and that's the launching point for a new novel from Egyptian-American writer Pauls Toutonghi. It's called "Evel Knievel Days." Alan Cheuse has our review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: Butte, Montana and Cairo. That's a lot of territory to embrace in one book, but Pauls Toutonghi has a large wingspan as a writer. His main character is an extroverted young guy with a touch of OCD - Khosi Saqr, father from Cairo, and an American mother, and someone never really at home in America.

As Khosi describes himself, at birth, my Egyptian blood flared. I was the color of a paper bag. My broad nose jutted from my oblong face. A brace of black hair crowned my head. I looked like a tiny Yasser Arafat.

Khosi's parents have long been separated, but when his father returns briefly to Butte, fabled copper capital of the world, to get the mother to agree, finally, to a divorce, Khosi, feeling more than a little unhinged and displaced, sets out after his father returns to Egypt in pursuit of his dad. This leads him to Cairo and a complicated family crisis and, for him, a crisis of body as well as soul.

From the streets of poor neighborhoods to the racetracks of the rich and the criminal, from restaurants - there's a wonderful Middle Eastern culinary thread you can follow through this novel - to hidden courtyards and apartments to hospitals, we travel with him as he tells - in a breezy, cheerful, but always intelligent voice - the story of his daunting quest to reconnect with his father.

And with that voice, Khosi speaks for himself and for millions - for everyone trying to put together the pieces of a broken family. At one point, Khosi quotes the great food writer, M.F.K. Fisher, who said that the smell of good bread baking is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight. Can we make an analogy between that sense of delight and reading this novel? I think so.

BLOCK: That's Alan Cheuse with his review of the novel from Pauls Toutonghi titled "Evel Knievel Days."

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