As a child, Nadia was left with her grandparents in Egypt, while her mother sought work in the Gulf. Decades later, she looks back on her fragmented childhood from an uncertain present: it is 2011 and the streets have erupted in an unexpected revolution. Her activist father, the sole anchor in her life, encourages her to be a part of the protests and so Nadia joins the sit-in at Tahrir Square. Donia Kamal’s succinct, candid prose draw us into Nadia’s world: from the private to the public; from the men she has loved and lost, to her participation in the momentous events of the Egyptian revolution. Stunning in its simplicity, Cigarette Number Seven is a deeply intimate novel about family and relationships in turbulent times.
Cairo, January 1952. Egypt is at a critical point in its modern history, struggling to throw off the yoke of the seventy-year British occupation and its corrupt royalist allies. Hamza is a committed young radical, his goal to build a secret armed brigade to fight for freedom, independence, and national self-esteem. Fawziya is a woman with a mission too, keen to support the cause. Among the ashes of the city love may grow, but at a time of national struggle what place do personal feelings have beside the greater love for a shackled homeland? In this finely crafted novel, Yusuf Idris, best known as the master of the Arabic short story, brings to life not only some of the most human characters in modern Arabic fiction but the soul of Cairo itself and the soul of a national consciousness focused on liberation. ‘’Like the Russian aristocrats of Chekhov, the provincial bourgeoisie of Flaubert, or the Ibo villagers of Achebe, Idris raises his authentic characters into convincing types within their context: he makes us live their agonies and hopes.’’—Ferial Ghazoul
Clamor of the Lake begins with the appearance of an old fisherman of unknown origin sailing a black boat. Taciturn and enigmatic, he takes on a woman and her twin boys. While he gives away nothing about his past, his undemanding companionship prompts the woman to narrate her turbulent life. Meanwhile, in a nearby village by the lake, Gomaa and his wife have found respite from the dreariness of their existence in the fantastic objects the sea churns up during gales—a sword, alluring panties, a talisman. But when the waves cast up a chest that speaks in a language no one can comprehend, Gomaa is haunted by its voice. As the tumult of the lake drives a wedge between the couple, it turns two neighbors into close allies: Karawia, a café proprietor, and Afifi, a grocer. Eventually, they too will be haunted by the siren song of the lake. In Mohamed El-Bisatie’s lyrical novel, the stories of these various figures converge on the mercurial presence of the lake, which in the end proves the narrative’s true hero. An accomplished experiment in the poetics of space, Clamor of the Lake won the 1995 Cairo International Book Fair Award for Best Novel of the Year.
This first anthology of its kind gathers work from sixteen Iraqi writers. Shedding a bright light on the rich diversity of Iraqi experience, Shakir Mustafa has included selections by Iraqi women and men from a variety of backgrounds. While each voice is distinct, they are united in writing about a homeland that has suffered under repression, censorship, war, and occupation. Many of the selections mirror these grim realities, forcing the writers to open up new narrative terrains and experiment with traditional forms. Themes range from childhood and family to war, political oppression, and interfaith relationships. Mustafa provides biographical sketches of the writers and an enlightening introduction chronicling the evolution of Iraqi literature. Includes works by: Ibtisam Abdullah, Ibrahim Ahmed, Lutfiyya al-Dulaimi, Mayselun Hadi, Muhammad Khodayyir, Samira Al-Mana, Nasrat Mardan, Shmuel Moreh, Samir Naqqash, Abdul Sattar Nasir, Jalil al-Qaisi, Abdul Rahman Majeed al-Rubaie, Mahmoud Saeed, Salima Salih, Mahdi Isa al-Saqr, Samuel Shimon.
Saleem, fed up with all the violence, religiosity, and strict family hierarchies of his Iraqi village, flees to Spain to establish a new life for himself. But his lonely exile is turned upside down when he encounters his father, Noah, in a Madrid nightclub after not seeing him in more than a decade. Noah looks and acts like a new man, and Saleem sets out to discover the mystery of his father’s presence in Spain and his altered life. In doing so, he recalls formative moments in Iraq of familial love, war, and the haunting accidental death of his cousin Aliya, Saleem’s partner in the hesitant, tender exploration of sexuality. When the renewed relationship with his father erupts in a violent conflict, Saleem is forced to rediscover his sense of self and the hard-won stability of his life. Through Saleem’s experiences and reflections, the fast-paced narrative carries the reader between Spain and Iraq to a surprising resolution.
“How could a good Muslim boy like you be born into a Jewish family!” For Galal, forced to leave Egypt in the 1960s Jewish exodus with his family, the Diaspora has none of the beauty of a rich tapestry of history; it is a day-to-day struggle to fit into his new life in Paris, reconcile the conflicting demands of family and friends, and come to terms with who he is. The quest for belonging and identity is at the heart of this sensitive and tender narrative. Earthy, rambunctious supporting characters burst from the page, spontaneous, emotional, yet, for all their façade of confidence, no less adrift than Galal himself. Ruhayyim’s Paris of the 1960s is startlingly relevant: then, as now, religion offers an illusory source of community and identity for migrants to the west, not fitting in, yet cut off from their roots. Deeply personal, this unusual, uplifting coming-of-age novel takes us into the heart of an ordinary young man in the grip of an unforgiving historical moment.
Egyptian Muslims and Jews were not always at odds. Before the Arab–Israeli wars, before the mass exodus of Jews from Egypt, there was harmony. Offering an intimate yet panoramic view of the easy coexistence of Muslims, Jews, and Christians in an old neighborhood of Cairo, this sweeping yet personal novel, spanning the 1930s to the 1960s, accompanies Galal, a young boy with a Jewish mother and a Muslim father, through his childhood and boyhood in the vibrant popular quarter of Daher. With his schoolboy crushes and teen rebellions, Galal is deeply Egyptian, knit tightly with his mother, father, and grandfather in old Cairo—a middle-class social fabric of manners and morals, values and traditions that cheerfully incorporates and as cheerfully transcends religion, but a fabric that is about to be torn apart by a bigger world of politics that will also put Galal’s very identity to the test.
Disciples of Passion chronicles the civil war in Lebanon through the troubled and sometimes quasi-hallucinatory mind of a young man who has experienced kidnapping, hostage exchange, and hospital internment. As he recalls his village childhood and recounts his relationship with a woman of a different faith, his fragmented narrative probes the uncertainties of political testimonial and ascriptions of responsibility in wartime. Marilyn Booth’s fluid translation brings to an English audience one of the Arabic language’s finest contemporary novelists. Hoda Barakat writes from personal experience: her novels focus on the civil war in Lebanon and how it shaped the lives of people marginalized by the conflict. Compelling scenarios of war and its aftermath of suffering and destruction are integrated into subtle psychological portraits with protagonists often propelled into unexpected action.
On the eve of Salma’s twenty-first birthday, scattered friends and family converge on New York for a celebration organized by Darwish, her obstinate grandfather. Each guest’s journey to this fated gathering takes on an unexpected significance, as they find themselves revisiting the choices they have made in life, and rethinking their relationships with one another and the country in which they live. Traveling seamlessly between Egypt and the United States, Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge is a story about how we construct and shift our identities, and about a family’s search for home.
In this, the first Nubian novel ever translated, Awad Shalali, a Nubian worker in modern Egypt, dreams of Dongola—the capital of medieval Nubia, now lost to the flood waters of the Aswan High Dam. In Dongola, the Nubians reached their zenith. They defeated and dominated Upper Egypt, and their archers, deadly accurate in battle, were renowned as “the bowmen of the glance.” Halima, Awad’s wife, must deal with the reality of today’s Nubia, a poverty-stricken bottomland. Men like Awad now work in Cairo for good wages while the women remain at home in squalor, ignorant of the glory now covered by the Nile’s water. Left to tend Awad’s sick mother and his dying country, Halima grows despondent and learns the truth behind the Upper Egyptian lyric: “Time, you are a traitor—what have you done with my love?” Through his characters’ pain and suffering, Idris Ali paints in vibrant detail, with wit and a keen sense of history’s absurdities, the story of cultures and hearts divided, of lost lands, impossible dreams, and abandoned loves. Dongola received the University of Arkansas Press Award for Arabic Literature in Translation in 1997.
In a fictional Gulf country, with its gleaming glass towers and imported greenery, the routine of day-to-day life is suddenly interrupted when the national football team qualifies for the World Cup. The Emir issues an edict ordering all native Emiratis to travel to France to support the team, leaving the country to the care of its imported labor. How do they handle such newly found freedom? As though steered by a perverse blend between Dante and Scheherazade, we descend layer by layer beneath the façade of modernity: from the colorful multilingual throngs rejoicing for the Emirati team to the hierarchies that underpin them, from the luxurious gardens and swimming pools into the darker secrets of the bedroom, from the rigid and inhibiting strictures of the present to a remote age of innocence. Three narratives interweave to form a tight and thought-provoking examination of the psychology of control. Drumbeat received the Sawiris Foundation Award for Egyptian Literature.
Earth Weeps, Saturn Laughs opens with the return of Khalid Bakhit, a government employee, to his hometown in Oman after a time away in the big city, and concludes with his return to the city with a new maturity born of a series of wrenching encounters with reality. Khalid’s return home, sparked by his flight from a painful love affair, coincides with events that reveal the force of long-established traditions that have a stranglehold on the town: from racial prejudice, to religious bigotry, to ossified patterns of leadership. Khalid’s awakening and transformation are catalyzed by his encounters with a certain “Saturnine poet” who, in the course of chasing after an elusive ode, has stumbled upon this unnamed village. For a period of time “the Saturnine” becomes Khalid’s closest companion: listening to his woes, helping him see himself with new eyes, and imparting to him a wisdom from a world beyond, untainted by human smallness.
Originally published in Cairo in 1998, this carefully crafted novel represents a welcome addition to a body of literature that has so far received less than the attention it merits by comparison with that of Egypt and the Levant. Set among the oil wells of the Basra region of southern Iraq, where the writer spent much of his working life, the novel draws on the author’s own experiences to paint a picture at once subtle and vivid of relations between the British and their local employees in the 1950s. Much of the action is seen through the eyes of the young, bookish narrator, who is clearly modeled on the author himself. It soon becomes clear that a world of difference separates the lives of Abu Jabbar, Hussein, Istifan, and the rest from that of their European bosses with their company dances and other strange social customs. Although the novel has a strongly nationalistic flavor, it is also suffused with a lingering sense of nostalgia for a gentler age, which will inevitably prompt reflections on the more recent British and US involvement in that unhappy country.
Love and death and the passage between entry into the world and exit from it are the focus of this collection of short stories. Buthaina Al Nasiri is an Iraqi author who has lived in Cairo since 1979. Despite this physical and temporal distance from her homeland, much of her material derives from it and many of the stories in this collection reflect her deeply felt nostalgia for Iraq. In contrast to many contemporary female writers, she confesses to being less interested in the position of women in society than in that of people in general and the sufferings they experience between birth and the end of life. None the less, some of her best stories depict the many-colored relationships that exist between the sexes. Buthaina Al Nasiri’s work has been widely translated into European languages, but this is the first volume of her stories to appear in English, for which renowned translator Denys Johnson-Davies has selected work from a career of short-story writing spanning some thirty years.
Rejected by his tribe and hunted by the kin of the man he killed, Ukhayyad and his thoroughbred camel flee across the desolate Tuareg deserts of the Sahara. Between bloody wars against the Italians in the north and famine raging in the south, Ukhayyad rides for the remote rock caves of Jebel Hasawna. There, he says farewell to the mount who has been his companion through thirst, disease, lust, and loneliness. Alone in the desert, haunted by the prophetic cave paintings of ancient hunting scenes and the cries of jinn in the night, Ukhayyad awaits the arrival of his pursuers and their insatiable hunger for blood and gold. Gold Dust is a classic story of the brotherhood between man and beast, the thread of companionship that is all the difference between life and death in the desert. It is a story of the fight to endure in a world of limitless and waterless wastes, and a parable of the struggle to survive in the most dangerous landscape of all: human society.
Twin sisters Randa and Lamis live in the besieged Gaza Strip. Inseparable to the point that even their mother cannot tell them apart, they grow up surrounded by the random carnage that characterizes life under occupation. Randa, who wants to be a journalist, writes to record the devastation around her, taking pictures of martyred children. Meanwhile, their beloved neighbor Amna quietly converses with all those she has lost, as she plans the wedding of Lamis and her son Saleh. With their menfolk almost entirely absent, it is the women who take center stage in this poignant novel of resilience, determination, and living against the odds.
The eleven short stories in this book take us back to an Alexandria past, the cosmopolitan city as it was experienced by the author in the years before, during, and following the Second World War. Against a backdrop of major events in Alexandria’s history, from the halcyon days of the late 1930s, through the alarums of the War, to the 1952 Revolution and the dispersion of almost the entire foreign community of the city, Tzalas weaves his stories peopled with characters from his youth. These are ordinary people, people of different nationalities and faiths, but all Alexandrians, living side by side in the Great City. In describing each character with great sensitivity and perception, Tzalas succeeds not only in capturing the essence of the city itself, but in poignantly foretelling the fundamental changes and exodus that were to come. The events surrounding, among others, a German family caught in the city during the Second World War, three French monks, an old Greek musician, and a group of cultivated elderly Alexandrian gentlemen, are told with an affection often tinged with sadness. Through these characters, Tzalas tells the story of everyday lives caught up in the turbulent currents of history and the transformation of a beloved city—the end of an era. Each of the eleven stories is accompanied by an evocative illustration by Anna Boghiguian.
At the end of the fifteenth century, the keys to Granada, the last Muslim state in the Iberian Peninsula, have been handed over to the Christian king and queen. Abu Jaafar the bookbinder watches Christopher Columbus and his entourage in a triumphant parade of exotic plants, animals, and human captives from the Americas. But as Spain celebrates the acquisition of a new world, Muslims and Jews throughout the country are mourning the loss of an old one, and now face confiscations, forced conversions, and expulsions. As the new masters of Granada burn books, Abu Jaafar quietly moves his rich library out of town, while still preparing for the marriage of his granddaughter Saleema to his apprentice Saad. Radwa Ashour skillfully weaves a history of Granadan rule and the Andalusian Arab world into a novel that evokes cultural loss and the disappearance of a vanquished population.
An Arab tyrant once infamously declared, “I see heads that are ripe for plucking.” In Mahmoud Al-Wardani’s novel of tyranny and oppression, an impaled head seeks solace in narrating similar woes it sustained in previous incarnations. Beheadings, both literal and metaphorical—torture, murder, decapitation, brainwashing, losing one’s head—are the subject of the six stories that unfold. The narrative takes us from the most archetypal beheading in Arabo-Islamic history, that of al-Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, via a crime passionel, the torture of Communists in Nasser’s prisons, the meanderings of a Cairene teenager unwittingly caught in the bread riots of 1977, a body dismembered in the 1991 Gulf War, and a bloodless beheading on the eve of the new millennium, into a dystopic future where heads are periodically severed to undergo maintenance and downloading of programs.
Short story writing in Egypt was still in its infancy when Denys Johnson-Davies, described by Edward Said as “the leading Arabic–English translator of our time,” arrived in Cairo as a young man in the 1940s. Nevertheless, he was immediately impressed by such writing talents of the time as Mahmoud Teymour, Yahya Hakki, Yusuf Gohar, and the future Nobel literature laureate Naguib Mahfouz, and he set about translating their works for local English-language periodicals of the time. He continued to translate over the decades, and sixty years later he brings together this remarkable overview of the work of several generations of Egypt’s leading short story writers. This selection of some fifty stories represents not only a cross-section through time but also a spectrum of styles, and includes works by Teymour, Hakki, Gohar, and Mahfouz and later writers such as Mohamed El-Bisatie, Said el-Kafrawi, Bahaa Taher, and Radwa Ashour, as well as new young writers of today like Hamdy El-Gazzar, Mansoura Ez Eldin, and Youssef Rakha.