As with his earlier works, Mohamed El-Bisatie’s novel is set in the Egyptian countryside, about which he writes with such understanding. Episodic in form, it deals with a family—Zaghloul the layabout father, Sakeena the long-suffering wife, and two young boys. The central theme of the book is hunger: the hunger of not knowing where one’s next meal is coming from, and the universal hunger for sex and love. Sakeena’s life revolves round trying to provide her family with the necessary daily loaves of bread that will stave off starvation. Labor-shy Zaghloul works on and off at one of the village’s cafés, but prefers to spend his time listening in on conversations about subjects such as politics, which he would have liked to know more about, if only he had been an educated man. He is also intrigued by the stories told by young university students about their sexual exploits. Eventually chance presents him with a new job: to keep company with an elderly and over-fat man and help him on and off the mule he has to use for getting about. After looking in turn at the lives of the husband and the wife, the novel finally focuses on their elder son, who, although lacking the advantages of any sort of education, nonetheless shows more initiative than his father, and discovers his own way of contributing to the family bread larder. Despite its bleak title, Hunger is told with a lightness of touch and the writer’s trademark wry humor.
The first narrative work of the well-known Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti is an autobiographical memoir about the ironies of homecoming. The bridge that Barghouti crosses as a young man leaving his country in 1966 to pursue university studies in Cairo is the same bridge that he uses to cross back in 1996 after thirty long years in the Diaspora. I Saw Ramallah is about home and homelessness. The harrowing experience of a Palestinian, denied the most elementary human rights in his occupied country and in exile alike, is transformed into a humanist work. Palestine has been appropriated, dispossessed, renamed, changed beyond recognition by the usurpers, yet from the heap of broken images and shattered homes, Barghouti repossesses his homeland. Awarded the 1997 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature.
In 1996 Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti went back to his home for the first time since exile following the Six-Day War in 1967, and wrote a poignant and incisive account of the exile’s lot in the acclaimed memoir I Saw Ramallah. In 2003 he returned to Ramallah to introduce his Cairo-born son, Tamim Barghouti, to his Palestinian family. I Was Born There, I Was Born Here traces Barghouti’s own life in recent years and in the past—his early life in Palestine, his expulsion from Cairo and exile to Budapest, marriage and the birth of his son, Tamim, and then the young man’s own expulsion from Cairo—and tells the story of the Palestinian journey of father and son. Ranging freely back and forth in time, Barghouti weaves into his poetically crafted account sensitive evocations of Palestinian history and daily life. I Was Born There, I Was Born Here is destined, like its predecessor, to become a classic.
Here, for the first time, is a volume of short stories from this commercially and culturally vital and vibrant center of the Arab world. Life before oil in this region was harsh, and many of the stories in this collection—by both men and women from all corners of the country—tell of those times and the almost unbelievable changes that have come about in the space of two generations. Some tell of the struggles faced in the early days, while others bring the immediate past and the present together, revealing that the past, with all its difficulties and dangers, nonetheless possesses a certain nostalgia. Contributors: Abdul Hamid Ahmed, Roda al-Baluchi, Hareb al-Dhaheri, Nasser Al-Dhaheri, Maryam Jumaa Faraj, Jumaa al-Fairuz, Nasser Jubran, Saleh Karama, Lamees Faris al-Marzuqi, Mohamed al-Mazroui, Ebtisam Abdullah Al-Mu’alla, Ibrahim Mubarak, Mohamed al-Murr, Sheikha al-Nakhy, Mariam Al Saedi, Omniyat Salem, Salma Matar Seif, Ali Abdul Aziz al-Sharhan, Muhsin Soleiman, ‘A’ishaa al-Za‘aby.
Brought up in poverty in a remote part of an unstable Arab republic, the narrator studies Islamic law and Arabic and becomes a cleric and civil servant in the capital. At the age of almost 40 he accepts a position as imam of a mosque serving his compatriots in a richer and more cosmopolitan neighboring Arab country. His humdrum life changes when an educated and independent woman recruits him as consultant for a book on the great tenth-century Arab poet al- Mutanabbi. As their work together on his poetry leads to friendship and then love, the imam becomes embroiled in ideological conflict with activist Islamists at his mosque. Taken into protective custody after his enemies declare him apostate, and separated from the woman he loves, the imam chronicles how their relationship opened his eyes to a new world and taught him to overcome his old inhibitions. Judgment Day touches on debates within contemporary Islam and on the transformative and humanizing power of love between men and women.
Riyadh is a city of masks, a city “like a pressure cooker that’s about to explode,” a city that sleeps on a pile of words that no one dares utter. Saudi society has split into two camps, one adopting the slogan that God is strict in punishment, the other that God is merciful and forgiving. In the background the media trumpets that everything is perfect. Saudi writer Fahd al-Atiq explores this world through the character of Khaled, whose dysfunctional life, humdrum but rich in memories and introspection, bridges the gap between the old impoverished world of Najd and the consumerism of the years after the various oil booms, symbolized in this novel by the family’s move from the lively back streets of the old city to an isolated dream villa in the new suburbs, where their dreams are never quite fulfilled and their lives remain permanently ‘on hold.’
Like a Summer Never to Be Repeated is a fascinating and highly experimental story based loosely around the author’s own experiences in Egypt as a Moroccan student and visiting intellectual. In Cairo the narrator, Hammad, takes us on a deeply personal journey of discovery from the heady days of the 1950s and 1960s, with all the optimism and excitement surrounding Moroccan independence, Suez, and Abdel Nasser, up to the 1990s and the time of writing, revealing an individual intensely concerned with Arab life and culture. Meanwhile, his regular visits to Cairo allow us to watch a culture in transition over four decades. Exploring themes of change, the role of culture in society, memory, and writing, in a text that combines narrative fiction with literary criticism, philosophical musings, and quotation, Like a Summer Never to Be Repeated is among the most innovative works of modern Arabic literature and a testimony to Mohammed Berrada’s position as a leading pioneer.
After ten years in Paris, Galal returns to Cairo, where he finds a society in transformation. Egypt is Galal’s home, but he feels he no longer belongs there. He is caught between his two identities: his Jewish mother’s family are cosmopolitan business people, while his father’s family are rural farmers from the Delta. Kamal Ruhayyim paints an uncompromising portrait of an older generation dictating how their children live and love. Menorahs and Minarets is the concluding part of Ruhayyim’s compelling trilogy.
Captain Murad is busy planning for the Afterlife. He dreams of a grand, sunlit mausoleum on the banks of the Nile. To realize his pharaonic folly, the retired captain kindles an unlikely romance between Hazem, a feckless architect longing for immortality, and Asma, an impoverished single mother who strives for a better life for her children. As Murad’s tomb rises on the riverbank, so Hazem and Asma fall in love. A contemporary Egyptian romance of rare grace and wit, played out by characters trapped in their attitudes toward class and gender.
In Riyadh, against the events of the second Gulf War and Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, we learn the story of Munira—with the gorgeous eyes—and the unspeakable tragedy she suffers as her male nemesis wreaks revenge for an insult to his character and manhood. It is also the tale of many other women of Saudi Arabia who pass through the remand center where Munira works, victims and perpetrators of crimes, characters pained and tormented, trapped in cocoons of silence and fear. Munira records their stories on pieces of paper that she folds up and places in the mysterious bottle given to her long ago by her grandmother, a repository for the stories of the dead, that they might live again. This controversial novel looks at many of the issues that characterize the lives of women in modern Saudi society, including magic and envy, honor and revenge, and the strict moral code that dictates male–female interaction.
This collection of short stories, both poignant and skillfully crafted, bring to life the tragic demise of traditional Nubian life and culture. If the earlier dams that were built across the Nile during the first half of the twentieth century caused increasing numbers of the men-folk to migrate north to Cairo and Alexandria to work as servants, waiters, and doormen, the completion of the High Dam in 1964 sounded the death knell. While the temples of Abu Simbel were meticulously relocated at great expense, the drowning of the ancient heartland of the Nubian people along the banks of the Nile went largely unnoticed. Haggag Oddoul’s work, as well as documenting the personal tragedy of individuals caught up in massive social transformation, also casts a nostalgic light on the heritage and way of life of the Nubians: their rhythmic dancing, their beautiful women, the lively humor of their elders, and the enormous centrality of their traditions and the spirits with which they shared the environment. Two stories in this collection, ‘’Zeinab Uburty’’ and ‘’Nights of Musk,’’ offer a bucolic and dream-like insight into the world that has disappeared for ever under the water behind the dam. Meanwhile, two other stories, ‘’Adila, Grandmother’’ and ‘’The River People,’’ document the departure of the men, while the women are left behind to go fallow, and the second and third generations born in the cities of the north have only their grandmother’s tales and her pigeon Arabic to remind them of their heritage.
Set in the author’s own Nile-side neighborhood of Warraq, Aslan’s second novel, the first to be translated and published in English, chronicles the daily rhythm of life of rural migrants to Cairo and their complex webs of familial and neighborly relations over half a century. It opens with the mysterious disappearance of the tiny grandmother, Hanem, who is over 100 years old and is last seen by her daughter-in-law Dalal. Dalal does not have the heart to tell Hanem that her grown children Nargis and Abdel Reheem have both been dead for some time. Her grandson Mr. Abdalla, who has children of his own and not a few flecks of gray in his hair, reluctantly sets out for their home village to search for her, embarking on a bittersweet odyssey into his family’s past and a confrontation with his own aging. In an elliptical narrative, Aslan limns a series of vignettes that mimic the workings of memory, moving backward and forward in time and held together by a series of recurrent figures and images. There is Abdalla’s father, the tragic al-Bahey Uthman; his quirky and earthy uncle Abdel Reheem; and his sweet mother, Nargis, who dies with her simplest desires unfulfilled. Aslan’s moving portrait of the quotidian dramas that constitute the lives of ordinary Egyptians is untainted by populist pretensions or belittling romanticism, and full of the humor and heartbreaking pathos that have become trademarks of the author’s style.
In the once beautiful city of Aleppo, one Syrian family descends into tragedy and ruin. Irrepressible Sawsan flirts with militias, the ruling party, and finally religion, seeking but never finding salvation. She and her siblings and mother are slowly choked in violence and decay, as their lives are plundered by a brutal regime. Set between the 1960s and 2000s, No Knives in the Kitchens of this City unravels the systems of fear and control under Assad. With eloquence and startling honesty, it speaks of the persecution of a whole society.
Set in the sleepy Egyptian village of Muntaha during the late 1940s, this novel paints a vibrant portrait of rural life in Egypt that is both moving and memorable. Between the turbulent events of 1948 and the final years of the British presence in Egypt, the village’s inhabitants find themselves caught up against their will in the swirl of larger world events, although their daily lives, concerns, and beliefs are grounded in the timeless nature of a rural past. Hala El Badry’s masterful narrative depicts, in intimate detail, her characters’ relationships not only to each other but to the natural environment that surrounds them: from fishing on the Nile and cotton and corn harvests, to donkeys and sparrows gone tipsy on overripe fruit. The trials and fortunes of Taha Musaylihi, the mayor of Muntaha, together with those of his extended family, form the backbone of this tale of real life in the guise of fiction. Confronted with the fear and injustices born of war and foreign occupation, as well as the insecurity of their dependency on Nature and her forces, Taha joins the village farmers in valiant defiance of their British occupiers.
This sweeping novel depicts the intertwined lives of an assortment of Egyptians—Muslims and Copts, northerners and southerners, men and women—as they begin to settle in Egypt’s great second city, and explores how the Second World War, starting in supposedly faraway Europe, comes crashing down on them, affecting their lives in fateful ways. Central to the novel is the story of a striking friendship between Sheikh Magd al-Din, a devout Muslim with peasant roots in northern Egypt, and Dimyan, a Copt with roots in southern Egypt, in their journey of survival and self-discovery. Woven around this narrative are the stories of other characters, in the city, in the villages, or in the faraway desert, closer to the fields of combat. And then there is the story of Alexandria itself, as written by history, as experienced by its denizens, and as touched by the war. Throughout, the author captures the cadences of everyday life in the Alexandria of the early 1940s, and boldly explores the often delicate question of religious differences in depth and on more than one level. No One Sleeps in Alexandria adds an authentically Egyptian vision of Alexandria to the many literary—but mainly Western—Alexandrias we know already: it may be the same space in which Cavafy, Forster, and Durrell move but it is certainly not the same world.
The Qahtan are a Palestinian family that claims to have originated in the Arabian Peninsula, descended from the family of the Prophet Muhammad. This connection has given its members a certain ascendancy in their society, and has influenced their cultural and political choices. The true test occurs when the Qahtanis, like other Palestinians, confront two enemies after the First World War: the British Mandate and the Zionist movement. Observing the gradual and increasing illegal Jewish immigration and land appropriation, the Palestinians come to realize they have been betrayed by a power that “fulfilled their promises to the Jews and reneged on their promises to the Arabs.” Sahar Khalifeh brings to the forefront the inner conflicts of Palestinian society as it struggles to affirm its cultural and national identity, save its threatened homeland, and maintain a semblance of normalcy in otherwise abnormal circumstances.
2025: fourteen years after the failed revolution, Egypt is invaded once more. As traumatized Egyptians eke out a feral existence in Cairo’s dusty downtown, former cop Ahmed Otared joins a group of fellow officers seeking Egypt’s liberation through the barrel of a gun. As Cairo becomes a foul cauldron of drugs, sex, and senseless violence, Otared finally understands his country’s fate. In this unflinching and grisly novel, Mohammad Rabie envisages a grim future for Egypt, where death is the only certainty.
In a small Lebanese village a disillusioned imam, diagnosed with terminal cancer, must face his demons. Having consented to an arranged marriage, he has found himself in a loveless union and lusts after another. To please his family, he took up the robe and turban of his forefathers but the expected path to fulfillment did not unfold before him. Meticulous, sparse prose quietly evokes the essence of rural life and the burden of tradition. Hassan Daoud’s masterful novel plumbs the depths of a man’s struggle with religion and his place in the world.
After a failed study mission in France, Abd al-Rahman returns home to Iraq to launch an existentialist movement akin to that of his hero. Convinced that it falls upon him to introduce his country’s intellectuals to Sartre’s thought, he feels especially qualified by his physical resemblance to the philosopher (except for the crossed eyes) and by his marriage to Germaine, who he claims is the great man’s cousin. Meanwhile, his wealth and family prestige guarantee him an idle life spent in drinking, debauchery, and frequenting a well-known nightclub. But is his suicide an act of philosophical despair, or a reaction to his friend’s affair with Germaine? A biographer chosen by his presumed friends narrates the story of a somewhat bewildered young man who—like other members of his generation—was searching for a meaning to his life. This parody of the abuses and extravagances of pseudo-philosophers in the Baghdad of the sixties throws into relief the Iraqi intellectual and cultural life of the time and the reversal of fortune of some of Iraq’s wealthy and powerful families.
“This is your last day. Be strong. Don’t hesitate. Cut and run. An exit with no return.” Idris Ali’s confessional novel opens with these words, spoken on an unbearably hot August afternoon in downtown Cairo, where the Nubian narrator has just decided, once and for all, to end his life. Delirious and thirsty, he wanders around venting his resentments large and small, his sexual frustrations, and his sense of powerlessness in the face of unremitting injustice. He seeks to expunge his failed life in the Nile: the river that had been the life blood of his country for millennia, and that—with Egypt’s new dam—now drowns Nubia, flinging her dispossessed sons north and south into exile. Many years ago, the narrator was one of those sons, fleeing flood and famine only to arrive in Cairo, penniless and shoeless, in time to see it go up in flames, the old regime overthrown by “the men in tanks.” Poor is the story of a life of hardship, adversity, and emotional starvation. It is also the story of opportunities squandered and hopes traded away for nothing—of a life lived, at times, all too poorly.