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Books
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 06 - 12 - 2018


FOUNDING FATHERS:
The 1989 Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006) would've been 107 on 30 December this year. Following the notorious attempt on Mahfouz's life by religious extremists in 1995, Al-Ahram Weekly's founding editor the late Hosny Guindy (1943-2003) visited the author at the Police Hospital, where he was recuperating. Mahfouz prefaced his next book with a dedication to the young men who stabbed him in the neck, writing, “To those who differ with me I present lines that I wrote in the interest of a society that cannot improve without culture.”
Mahfouz is the author of numerous novels including the world-famous Cairo Trilogy, the Harafish epic and, most controversially, Children of Gebelawi, the book that fell foul of Al-Azhar on its serialisation starting in 1950 and was withdrawn from circulation with Mahfouz's approval. Though it was not published in Egypt until 2006, the novel prompted followers of the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman to try to kill the Arab world's most successful novelist, who was 84 years old at the time. The novel is the subject of a recent biographical book by Mohamed Shoair, Biography of the Forbidden Novel (Al-Ain, 2018).
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Leila fi Hayat Abdel-Tawab Tutu
Mohamed Tawfik, Leila fi Hayat Abdel-Tawab Tutu (A Night in the Life of Abdel-Tawab Tutu), Cairo: Ministry of Culture (Al-Thaqafa Al-Jadida), 2018 (second edition). pp470
Set in a Red Sea resort over the course of one night following president Anwar Al-Sadat's assassination in October 1981, Mohamed Tawfik's new novel fuses fantasy and reality. It consists of the interior monologue of the main character Tutu. He reveals his complex family history — his grandfather's two wives: Amina, a peasant; and Safinaz, an aristocrat — and his complicated relationship with a girl named Leila and a group of friends who spend their time in an apartment they name the Hot-air Balloon. Both narrative lines seem to reflect the political and social history of the country, leading up to the president's assassination.
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Bid' Saat fi Yawmin Ma
Mohamed Sadek, Bid' Saat fi Yawmin Ma (A Few Hours in a Given Day), Cairo: Al-Ruwak for Publishing and Distribution, 2018. pp183
Another page-turner by the popular young novelist Mohamed Sadek (author Hipta and Insta Life, among others), this is the record of 12 hours — starting midnight — in the life of a group of young people, made up of 12 corresponding chapters. It uncovers its characters' Internet activities and their private affairs, dreams, challenges and fears, showing to what extent their online life shapes their social existence. In the process it tells all kinds of interesting stories. One relationship, for example, involves Yassin meeting Sarah in Nasr City when she asks him the way to 10 Ramadan City where her father appears to be hospitalised, having come from Mohandessin.
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Abnaa Al-Samt
Majid Tubya, Abnaa Al-Samt (Children of Silence), Cairo: Battana, 2018. pp157
In the framework of Battana's project to republish the complete works of Egyptian novelist and science fiction pioneer Majid Tubya comes this masterpiece of war writing first published in 1974, a year after the October War. It centres on Nabila, a journalist, and her fiancé Magdi, who took part in the war, and is set between Suez and Cairo. But it is arguably for its vivid descriptions of the conflict that it stands out: “Attacking Suez was seen as the second part of Israel's response to the message sent by Egypt when the destroyer Eilat was sunk. The attack's effects were doubled due to the element of surprise, for there was no alarm as in the case of the air attacks; the attacks came from the artillery forces of Eyoun Moussa and Port Tawfik, and they transformed the beautiful Port Tawfik into a disaster zone, with not one house standing.” Born in Minya in 1938, Tubya is perhaps best known for the 1967 short story collection Fostok Arrives on the Moon, his first book, but he has also written novels in various genres as well as plays and children's books.
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Al-Mataha
Gihan Maamoun, Al-Mataha (The Maze), Cairo: Nahdet Misr Publishing House, 2018. pp238
Making much use of vernacular dialect, this is a horror novel written in a conversational style. It centres on Laila Al-Masri, a Zamalek gallery owner who has a recurring nightmare of being in a coffin, and her artist fiancé Yazan. During their friend Lola's birthday party, in the presence of several other couples including Dina and Ali, a tour guide and Egyptologist, one friend, Shahira, has a seizure and appears to speak in a voice not her own, uttering words that only Ali can understand. Hanaa and Shahd, two other friends, visit various magicians to try and resolve the mystery. Eventually all 12 friends end up trapped in a crypt with an ancient mummy in a supernatural showdown that brings them face to face with their deepest, darkest secrets.
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Al-Okhra
Nashwa Salah, Al-Okhra (The Other), Cairo for Publishing and Distribution, 2018. pp326
Set in Paris, this is both the story of émigré journalist Nadim Noaman's affair with the younger, enigmatic journalist Montaha, and Montaha's own life story. Montaha's mother, a strong-willed aristocrat who antagonised her family by marrying the man she loved, quickly fell out of the love with her husband and abandoned him and her baby daughter. Montaha grew into a fiercely independent but scarred woman, and her story is a journey into the female psyche. “Maybe the idea of marriage frightened me,” Montaha says, “because everyone told me I was so like her, and I didn't want to be her. Maybe I'm scared of marrying and having children only to discover that this was not my desire.” Like the present volume, Nashwa Salah's first novel, Kabwat Muhra (Mare's Fall, 2015) focused on female desire.
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Piano Fatma wal Bahth aan Haywan Ramzi Jadid lil Bilad
Mohamed Al-Makhzangi, Piano Fatma wal Bahth aan Haywan Ramzi Jadid lil Bilad (Fatma's Piano and the Search for a New Animal Mascot for the Country), Cairo: Al-Shorouk Publishing House, 2018. pp114
This book includes a novella in which the narrator, apparently the writer himself, is reminded of a piano-playing Lebanese girl he met while studying in the Ukraine when he comes across a newspaper headline that includes the words “Fatma's piano”. This triggers a search for that college lover of his. There is also an extended satire of present-day politics and society in Egypt using the device of “symbolic animals”, which reflects the celebrated short story writer Mohamed Al-Makhzangi's deep interest in the natural world.
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Aqsa Ma Yumkin: Yawmyat
Mustafa Zekri, Aqsa Ma Yumkin: Yawmyat 3 (The Maximum Possible: Journals 3), Cairo: Al-Kotob Khan, 2018. pp320
In his third book of “journals”, Mustafa Zekri includes neither dates nor venues but rather delves into epistemology and aesthetics with a generous dose of political analysis thrown in for good measure. For lovers of the high-brow and the uncompromising, the acclaimed stylist and screenwriter's unique blend of literary experimentation and penetrating views on literature and cinema will prove a delight. Zekri, a graduate of the Cinema Institute, wrote two films — Afarit Al-Asphalt (Devils of the Asphalt, 1996) and Ganat Al-Shayatin (Devils' Heaven, 1999) — as well as nine books of fiction including Al-Khawf Yaakul Al-Roh (Fear Eats the Soul, 1998) and Al-Rasaail (Letters, 2006).
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Hekayet Ragul Mayit
Ahmed Saber, Hekayet Ragul Mayit (Dead Man Tale), Cairo: The Egyptian Lebanese Publishing House, 2018. pp200
Ibrahim is a young man who lives away from his family in a rented flat whose former occupant, as he eventually discovers, killed himself. A man who abruptly appears and disappears takes Ibrahim on journeys that involve living whole lives before returning in the blink of an eye. “I closed my eyes,” Ibrahim says, “and after one second I opened them to find myself in a room where books occupied every corner, as if any human presence were an oddity and the room were a small world inhabited exclusively by books. I stood by the open door of the room with my strange visitor beside me and another person facing the window with his back to us. And he spoke to us without looking at us, as if he knew of our presence before we arrived.” This is the novel that won the Lebanese Publishing House's workshop competition in May 2017.
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Ahbabtu Lageah
Mohamed Al-Mashad, Ahbabtu Lageah (I Loved a Refugee), Cairo: Noon Publishing House, 2018. pp250
Nouh is a microbus driver who dreams of starting his own transportation business. When he meets and falls in love with a Syrian girl arriving in Egypt as a political refugee, he ends up starting a Syrian food restaurant chain with her… Mohamed Al-Mashad is a young author and television presenter. His first novel, Araftu Allah Bihubik (I Knew God by Loving You) appeared in 2017.
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Al-Fabrika
Ahmed Al-Malawani, Al-Fabrika (The Factory), Cairo: The Egyptian Lebanese Publishing House, 2018. pp415
This is the latest book by the 2009 Nabil Farouk Literature and Science Fiction Award Ahmed Al-Malwani, also the author of Zeus Must Die (2010), Rusty Sword and Explosive Belt (which won the Organisation of Culture Palaces's general contest in 2011) and Devil's Shadow (2014). The story of a young Frenchman who arrives in one of the poorest Egyptian villages retracing the footsteps of an ancestor who was there during Bonaparte's Campaign, it is a medley of fantasy, science fiction and ancient Egyptian lore. It involves the Frenchman, who has an Egyptian name, Mansour, in various folk tale-like scenarios: a “youth potion” that counters mortality, the secret of turning a man into a wild beast, or a magical manifestation of class struggle.
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La Shayea Yahduth Huna
Wael Yassin, La Shayea Yahduth Huna (Nothing Happening Here), Cairo: Al-Ain Publishing House, 2018. pp213
A naïve cover belies the profound content of the vernacular poet Wael Yassin's first novel. Told in the voice of conscience, personified in the elderly narrator Am Saad, it is the story of two generations of Market Street residents of the same Egyptian village: Hamed and his wife Laila; and their daughter Mona, the man who chastely loves her, Magdi, and that man's lover Hind. Sex is but one aspect of a drama full of conflicts, accidents, funerals and a cast of colourful if believable characters.


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