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Books
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 06 - 09 - 2018

Hadath fi Berlin
Hisham Al-Kheshen, Hadath fi Berlin (It Happened in Berlin), the Arab Publishing House Library, 2018. pp 230
This novel opens on 9 November 1938, the Night of Broken Glass during which the greatest pogrom against Jews to date took place in Nazi Germany. Progressing through the 1950s and 1960s to the 1990s, the action traces the life of a family through generations using their centuries-old heirloom, an antique violin, as a narrative device. Hisham Al-Kheshen, born in 1963, has published short stories and novels since 2010. His 2016 novel Tilal Alaska (Alaska Hills) was on the long list of the “Arabic Booker”.
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Morr Methl Al-Qahwa, Hilw Methl Al-Chocolat
Mirna Al-Helbawi, Morr Methl Al-Qahwa, Hilw Methl Al-Chocolat (Bitter Like Coffee, Sweet Like Chocolate), Al-Karma Publishing House, 2018. pp 210
This is the story of Mirna, a young woman who from Alexandria who comes to Cairo to pursue her passion for writing and, together with her closest male friend Shams, work as a journalist at a magazine in which they both get jobs together. But Shams is forced to return to Alexandria after he introduces Mirna to another man, Adham… With chapters named after cities all over the world at various points in time, this novel full of romance and culture shock proceeds in a complex, non-chronological order. It is tempting to see it as a fictionalised autobiography in which the blogger, Arab Journalism Award nominee (2016) and NRJ Radio presenter reflects openly if somewhat sentimentally on her private life.
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Hekayet Fakharani
Mohamed Mowafi, Hekayet Fakharani (Fakharani's Tale), Al-Shorouk Publishing House, 2017. pp 300
This is an ostensible biography of the great religious leader Al-Mahdi Al-Fakharani whose descendant Zein Al-Abidine embarks on an inward journey after he finds an occult manuscript belonging to his grandfather in which the great Sufi Ibn Arabi's journeys in time and space are documented. As the tales of Al-Fakharani and Ibn Arabi intertwine, the book turns into a deep meditation on vulnerability and mysticism. Mowafi is a news anchor as well as a writer. He has published a novel, Safar Al-Shatat (Travelling Diaspora), and a number of studies on Sufism. His first book of poetry is in the making.
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Maasat Al-Malek Elwi
Haggag Oddoul, Maasat Al-Malek Elwi (King Elwi's Tragedy), The Egyptian Lebanese Publishing House, 2018. pp 295
Celebrated (and occasionally controversial) Nubian novelist Haggag Oddoul's latest opens in an unidentified desert. It tells stories of struggles, conflicts and wars between kingdoms as well as stories of love between rich and poor and stories of passion and jealousy. Prince Badawi Abdel-Rehim is a handsome young leader who gathers the youth around him and blocks the travel routes for booty, and so King Elwi of the Seven Rivers Kingdom sends a huge army headed by Prince Rasem Bin Salwa, his nephew and the heir, to punish him. But Prince Rasem is an impulsive warrior, he quickly loses the battle and his men are taken prisoners. A screenwriter as well as a novelist, Oddoul was born in Alexandria in 1944. He received the State Incentive Award in 1990 for his collection of short stories Layali Al-Misk Al-Atiqa (Nights of Musk: Stories from Old Nubia), translated by Anthony Calderbank for the American University in Cairo Press in 2005. He also received the Sawiris Award in 2005. Together with Idris Ali, Hassan Nur and Yehya Mukhtar, he is credited with celebrating and preserving the fast disappearing heritage of Nubia.
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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
Mark Manson (Translated by Al-Hareth Al-Nabhan), The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, Manshourat Al-Raml (An Imprint of Dar Al-Tanweer), 2018. pp272
This has been by far the most popular book in Egypt since a picture of footballer Mohamed Salah reading it went viral. It turns out to be an interesting variation on the self-help theme, in which the American writer and blogger born in 1984, also the author of Models: Attract Women Through Honesty, helps the reader embrace the truth and face reality: “not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault”. By confronting your fears and flaws and giving up being naively positive, you can achieve understanding and acceptance. The book opens with an account of the life of the American writer Charles Bukowski, the first 30 years of which were full of rejection and failure. “While money is nice,” writes Manson, “caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience.”
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Ard Zicola
Amr Abdel-Hamid, Ard Zicola (Land of Zicola, three parts), Assir Al-Kotob Publishing and Distribution, 2015 (reprinted 2018). pp 288
In this fantasy/speculative fiction series, a man from the village of Al-Bahwofrik near Aga in Dakahlia ends up in a land where instead of money people use units of intelligence: you are rewarded for any work you do by an increase in your intelligence, and when you pay for something you become a little more stupid. Every year the person with the least intelligence – the poorest in Zicola – is executed. Nobody can ever leave except on the Day of Zicola when the doors are opened. Amr Abdel-Hamid, who himself hails from Al-Bahwofrik, was born in 1987. His latest novel is latest is Qawa'id Garatain (Two Neighbours' Rules) in 2018.
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Ma La Nabouh Bih
Sandra Serag, Ma La Nabouh Bih (What We Don't Reveal), Noon Publishing House, 2018. pp 174
“How many time did we break up? I don't know. All I know is that being away from him would confuse me. I wanted to come back. Every time we were away, I always wanted to come back. I come back full of hope that he would change…” The story of a psychiatrist, Ellen, who travels to run away from her own heartbreak only to realise she has to face reality, this novel by a young novelist from Alexandria is the second romantic narrative by its author, born in 1996, whose debut, Saarhal (I Will Leave), appeared last year.
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Al-Khoroug An Al-Nass
Mohamed Taha, Al-Khoroug An Al-Nass (Off Script), Toya Publishing and Distributing, 2016 (reprinted 2018). pp 158
An original Arabic self-help title, this is a guide to the psyche in simple language. It helps the reader to track and assess their problems and confusions and so break out of the vicious circles of behaviour patterns reflecting illusion and limitation. The book contains a wealth of material on the hidden secrets of the subconscious and straightforward ways to overcome psychological traps. Mohamed Taha's last book, Elakat Khatira (Dangerous Relationships), dealt with healthy and unhealthy relationships, how to recognise and deal with them.


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