Together with such figures as the scholar Taha Hussein, the playwright Tawfik al-Hakim, the short story writer Mahmoud Teymour and—of course—Naguib Mahfouz, Yahya Hakki belongs to that distinguished band of early writers who, midway through the last century, under the influence of Western literature, began to practice genres of creative writing that were new to the traditions of classical Arabic. In the first story in this volume, the very short ‘‘Story in the Form of a Petition,’’ Yahya Hakki demonstrates his ease with gentle humor, a form rare in Arabic writing. In the following two stories, ‘‘Mother of the Destitute’’ and ‘‘A Story from Prison,’’ he describes with typical sympathy individuals who, less privileged than others, somehow manage to scrape through life’s hardships. The latter story deals with the people of Upper Egypt, for whom the writer had a special understanding and affection. It is, however, for the title story (in fact, more of a novella) of this collection that the writer is best known. Recounting the difficulties faced by a young man who is sent to England to study medicine and who then returns to Egypt to pit his new ideals against tradition, ‘‘The Lamp of Umm Hashim’’ was the first of several works in Arabic to deal with the way in which an individual tries to come to terms with two divergent cultures.
The Lamp of Umm Hashim
and other stories
Together with such figures as the scholar Taha Hussein, the playwright Tawfik al-Hakim, the short story writer Mahmoud Teymour and—of course—Nagui
Yahya Hakki (1905–92) started life as a lawyer and then served in different parts of the world as a diplomat. After resigning from the diplomatic service he devoted himself wholly to writing and became one of that small group of exceptionally talented men who, some half a century ago, laid the foundations for the literary renaissance in Egypt. DENYS JOHNSON-DAVIES is the pioneer translator of modern Arabic literature, with more than 25 volumes of translation to his name, and is the author of Memories in Translation: A Life between the Lines of Arabic Literature (AUC Press, 2005). He lives in Cairo and Marrakesh.
The American University in Cairo Press was very saddened by the passing of the leading and award-winning Arabic–English translator Denys Johnson-Davies, one month before his ninety-fifth birthday. Born in Canada in 1922 and raised in Cairo, Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya, Johnson-Davies returned to Cairo as a young man in the 1940s and began a literary career that spanned some seventy years and resulted in more than thirty volumes of translated Arabic novels, short stories, plays, and poetry, bringing the works of a host of writers from across the Arab world, including his friends Naguib Mahfouz, Tawfiq al-Hakim, and Yusuf Idris, to an ever-widening English readership. In his autobiography, Memories in Translation: A Life between the Lines of Arabic Literature (AUC Press, 2006), he told the story of a life in translation, and gave intimate glimpses of many of the Arab writers who are becoming increasingly known in the west. In the 1960s he started an influential Arabic literary magazine, Aswat, which published the leading avant-garde writers of the time, and in 1967 he put together the first representative volume of short stories from the Arab world. Then he really put Arabic writing on the international literary map with the establishment of the Heinemann Arab Authors series, after which he continued to select and translate the best of Arabic fiction. He also translated several books of Islamic Hadith (with Ezzeddin Ibrahim) and other books of Islamic thought, and wrote a large number of children’s books of Middle Eastern history and folktales. His last book, Homecoming: Sixty Years of Egyptian Short Stories (AUC Press, 2012), was a unique selection of some fifty stories representing several generations of Egypt’s leading short story writers. [embed]https://youtu.be/JG0eyQd31aQ[/embed] Johnson-Davies was described by the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said as “the leading Arabic–English translator of our time.” He was “a pioneer in the project of translating works of modern Arabic literature into English and in the complex process of persuading publishers of the value of publishing such works in the Anglophone market,” according to Roger Allen, translator and emeritus professor of Arabic and comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania. And Paul Starkey, translator and professor of Arabic at Durham University credits him with “putting modern Arabic writing on the map.” Naguib Mahfouz wrote in 2006 that Johnson-Davies, whom he had “known and admired since 1945, was the first person to translate my work,” and had “done more than anybody to translate modern Arabic fiction into English and promote it.” In 2007 he received the Sheikh Zayed Book Award for Personality of the Year in the Field of Culture.