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City of infinite words
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 16 - 08 - 2018

Sherif Sonbol, Lesser Poland: Kraków and Zakopane (A Mythical Land), The World in Arabic, Embassy of the Republic of Poland, pp190
Kraków and Zakopane
The first to be published (though the second to be completed) in an unprecedented series of travel books photographed by Sherif Sonbol, this is a beautiful, comprehensive look at the natural and manmade landmarks of Lesser Poland: churches, galleries and other tourist attractions stand side by side with sprawling green. Sonbol accompanies his pictures with brief stories about what they depict: how the exquisitely Gothic St Mary Basilica Church in Kraków, with its remarkable blue, red and gold cross, was rebuilt in 1347 following the Mongol invasion, for example. Other highlights include the Florian Gate, the old Royal City, the Kraków Cloth Hall, the statue of the Polish poet Adam Michiewicz at the Market Square in the Old Town, the Wawel Hill Cathedral and Royal Castle, where the ceiling features 30 wood carvings of human heads depicting the Greek Tabula Cebetis, or The Table of Cebes, the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre, the Wielieczka Salt Mine and the hot springs near Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains, which form a natural border with Slovakia.
Of the book, the Polish Ambassador Michal Murkociński writes, “on his frequent visits to my country he was especially inspired by the beauty of Lesser Poland (Małopolska), the southern part of the country whose capital is Kraków, my Kraków. There could not be a greater incentive for me to be involved in a book project documenting, in masterpieces of photography by a famous Egyptian, the magic of the place.
Sonbol wanted to address this album “Kraków and Zakopane”, to an Arab reader, stressing that this is not merely another of many already published universal touristic guides. The Poland we are looking at through his eyes is influenced by his Mediterranean sensitivity, overflowing with mysterious inspirations from the Arab world. I am sure this unprecedented book deserves the attention and the admiration of an Arab reader.”
Ahmed Khaled Tawfik, Afrah Al-Maqbara (Joys of the Cemetery), Al-Karma Publishing House, 2018, pp236
Afrah Al-Maqbara
The book is a posthumous collection of short stories by the widely beloved speculative fiction writer Ahmed Khaled Tawfik, who died aged 55 in April. In these nine stories he mixes horror and fantasy, starting with a computer engineer who is struck with xenoglossy, that is: suddenly able to speak a language he has never known, which leads him to fascinating information about his father and what he has inherited from him. In another story, one of two sisters who just may be the same psychotic person is an incorrigible killer.
The last story involves a group of friends summoning the spirit of the serial killer Ted Bundy — and suffering the consequences. Tawfik was a science fiction pioneer perhaps best known for his pocket series Ma Waraa Al-Tabiaah (Metaphysics) and his 2008 best-selling novel Utopia.
Nasser Iraq, Dar Al-Oshaq (House of Lovers), Egyptian-Lebanese Publishing House, 2018, pp350
Dar Al-Oshaq
A historical novel set in the time of Mohamed Ali Pasha, the latest by novelist Nasser Iraq (born in 1961) opens with the killing of a Greek man, Andreas, which occurs right after the massacre of the Mamelukes and for which a poor innocent Egyptian, Suleiman Al-Haddad is tried to appease the European consuls.
Against the backdrop of the French campaign, right before Mohamed Ali came to power, the exile of the popular leader Omar Makram, and the pasha's campaign on the Wahhabis in Arabia, the pasha and his sons Ibrahim and Tousson are convincingly portrayed, with the pasha sleepless and tormented, haunted by the Mamelukes' ghosts and his two sons consulting the court magician to try and help their father. Much of the book focuses on Al-Haddad's son Asfour, who is devastated by his father's unjust death and spends his days drinking and visiting pleasure houses, where he finds out about a secret lover of Andreas'.
Mustafa Ebeid, Nitroglycerin: Live to Kill, Kayan Publishing House, 2018, pp300
Nitroglycerin
This is a novel about the roots of terrorism, and its title is an in-your-face reference to a principal component of dynamite. A thriller-cum-historical novel, it is the story of the anti-social Hussein, who shows psychopathic tendencies in his teens during the British occupation of Egypt, quickly turning into a systematic murderer. Though as he grows Hussein becomes a charismatic character, attractive to women and politicians, he is soon convicted and escapes the death penalty, leaving for Syria where he resumes his killing sprees.
The book features convincing portraits of statesmen and politicians like Mustafa Al-Nahhas, Fouad Serageddin, Hassan Al-Banna, Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Anwar Al-Sadat, among others. Mustafa Ebeid (born in 1976) is the author of biographies of Al-Nahhas' wife Zeinab Al-Wakil and the military commander Saadeddin Al-Shazli.
Tarek Imam, Madinat Al-Hawaait Al-Lanihaaya (The City of Infinite Walls), Egyptian-Lebanese Publishing House, 2018, pp267
Madinat Al-Hawaait Al-Lanihaaya
A collection of fantastical stories all set in the City of Walls, the latest by the Egyptian novelist Tarek Imam (born in 1977) has an unusually bright cover and exciting illustrations by artist Salah Al-Morr. It is divided into three sections titled Women of the City of Walls, Men of the City of Walls and Strangers of the City of Walls.
A kind of contemporary response to the Thousand and One Nights that incorporates an interest in the question of death and such themes as language and love, the book's opening story sets the scene. One day the inhabitants of a city decide to demolish their houses and build four walls around their city, becoming one big family in one big house. From that day on, every morning they lose one of their numbers until only a man and a woman are left. In this as in other stories, Imam produces his own “tales of the unexpected”, overdoing unpredictability and suspense somewhat.
Ibrahim Eissa, Alboum Sowar Qadima (Old Photo Album), Al-Karma Publishing House, 2017, pp270
Alboum Sowar Qadima
In his latest book of fiction, political analyst Ibrahim Eissa presents his daughter Fatma with a series of realistic stories, or lessons learned in love, friendship and family as well as politics and the press. “What we have between us allows me to reach into the desk in my heart and open the closed drawer,” Eissa tells his daughter in the opening dedication.
As a writer Eissa is best-known for International Prize for Arabic Fiction-shortlisted Mawlana (The Televangelist, 2013), made into a film in 2016, but he is far better known as an oppositional journalist and talk show host.
Hani Darwish, Yawmiyat Al-Mallal Al-Thawri (Diaries of the Revolutionary Boredom), Al-Kotob Khan, 2018, pp160
Yawmiyat Al-Mallal Al-Thawri
This is a compilation of articles and day-to-day responses to political events by the late journalist Hani Darwish (1974-2013), written in the course of the 2011 Revolution and its direct aftermath.
In three sections roughly classifying the work into diaries, political analysis and commentary on the military, the book demonstrates Darwish's remarkable powers of observation and unique perspective, mixing Marxist revisionism with existential angst and including a powerful and enduring critique of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Abdel-Rahman Al-Sharkawi, Maasat Gamila (Gamila's Tragedy), Al-Shorouk Publishing House, 2018, pp270
Maasat Gamila
A dramatised life of the Algerian revolutionary icon Djamila Bouhired by the great playwright, poet and novelist Abdel-Rahman Al-Sharkawi (1921-1987), this is a newly republished classic of the modern Arabic canon, famously performed by Samiha Ayoub on stage and adapted for the screen by Youssef Chahine in the 1958 film Jamila, the Algerian, starring Magda alongside Ahmed Mazhar, Salah Zulfkar, Roushdi Abaza and Mahmoud Al-Meligi.
The script was written by Al-Sharkawi together with Ali Al-Zurqani, Naguib Mahfouz, Youssef Al-Sibaai and Wagih Naguib.


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