Sherine Hamdy, UCI anthropology professor and co-author of Lissa: A Story about Friendship, Medical Promise, and Revolution (University of Toronto Press), is the 2018 recipient of the PROSE Award in Cultural Anthropology & Sociology. The honor, awarded by the Association of American Publishers, annually recognizes the best book, journal or electronic content in professional and academic publishing in 58 categories.
The award-winning graphic novel Lissa follows the hopes and disappointments of popular uprisings that took place in the Arab world through the stories of two young girls. Layla, an Egyptian girl from a humble background, grows to become a resolute physician as she faces family tragedy and political violence. Anna, her close friend, is an American expatriate who grew up in Cairo in the shadow of her own family’s struggles with breast cancer. The fictional characters are drawn from hundreds of interviews conducted by Hamdy and co-author Coleman Nye, Simon Fraser University. Layla’s story integrates Hamdy’s Egypt-based research on the role that doctors took in the political uprisings. It also pulls from her earlier research on kidney failure and various Muslim scholars’ views on organ transplantation, as well as the environmental conditions exposing people to organ failure in the first place. Nye’s research focus on women in the U.S. who are at genetic risk for ovarian or breast cancer set the stage for Anna’s character.
The uprisings that shook Cairo in 2011-2012 force the characters to reckon with the political nature of health conditions and inequalities, and their intertwined stories of family illness and loss are told through a unique graphic novel format similar to a longer comic book.
“The word ‘lissa’ in Egyptian Arabic means ‘not yet’ or ‘still’ – aiming to capture the lingering hopes for a potential future of justice and freedom through the idiom of the lasting friendship between the two young women,” says Hamdy. “We were inspired by all the possibilities opened up by juxtaposing image and text – comics can bring more complexity to a situation by letting us play with time, scale, and geography– with comics, we could also depict interior emotional states that would be difficult to convey through words alone, like pain, meditation, or solitude.”
The book was the University of Toronto Press’s first leap into the graphic novel genre, and it launched the new ethnoGRAPHIC series that Hamdy is now editing.
“You know you’ve broken through when a graphic novel wins a scholarly book award,” says Anne Brackenbury of the University of Toronto Press.