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Books
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 16 - 05 - 2019


Interviews with the deceased

Rijal Hawla Al-Watan
Mohsen Abdel-Aziz, Rijal Hawla Al-Watan (Men around the Homeland), Battana, 2019, pp.285
Few books have gathered as many portraits-biographies of major national figures as deftly as Al-Ahram's Friday supplement editor Mohsen Abdel-Aziz's volume of essays on 17 modern Egyptian patriots. They include soldiers as well as thinkers, people with widely divergent life paths whose only thing in common is the integrity with which they sought the national interest and their popularity among Egyptians. In his brief introduction, Abdel-Aziz explains that he was inspired to seek out and present these figures when he felt the homeland was in danger during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Presented chronologically, the political characters together paint a picture of Egyptian history since the 1952 Revolution. They include not only General Mohamed Naguib (who would be placed under house arrest until 1971 when president Anwar Al-Sadat came to power, 13 years before his death), Egypt's first president, and the revolution's leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser but also such military leaders as Saadeddin Al-Shazli and Abdel-Ghani Al-Gamasi, outlining all these figures' contributions.
Abdel-Aziz's greatest achievement, however, may be the way in which he brings these people and his interactions with them to life. It is as if he met and interviewed each in person, considering the warmth and vitality with which he brings them to life and responds to them. His research is remarkable not only for its magnitude and precision but also for the sympathy it displays towards the people in question, demonstrating the dedication with which they served their country and the unique traits that made them national heroes. By bringing the historical tales he tells to present-day conclusions — showing how interim president Adli Mansour honoured Mohamed Naguib, for example — Abdel-Aziz also completes the picture, making his stories all the more relevant.
He also deals with the history of ideas, focusing on such icons of intellectual innovation and enlightenment as Sheikh Mohamed Abdou, Louis Awad, Fouad Zakaria and Salah Salem, as well as literary giants such as Yehia Haqqi, Kamel Al-Shinnawi, Youssef Idriss and Amal Donqol. He also dedicates an entire section to the press's leading lights, presenting such giants of the profession as former Al-Ahram editors Mohamed Hassanein Heikal and Ahmed Bahaaeddin. Heikal's chapter in particular is a gripping and engaging success story showing not only how he managed to print up to 400,000 copies of the newspaper but also how he turned Al-Ahram into an intellectual hub by contracting the greatest writers and artists of the day, including Tawfik Al-Hakim, Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz and painter Salah Taher.
Reviewed by Nader Habib

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Taranim Fi Dhil Tamara
Mohamed Afifi, Taranim Fi Dhil Tamara (Hymns in Tamara's Shade), Al-Shorouk Publishing House, 2019, pp.165
This volume of memoirs by satirist and novelist Mohamed Afifi (1922-1981) is one of his finest works. First published by Dar Al-Hilal in 1996, it was translated into English by Lisa J White and published by the University of Arkansas Press in 2000. It comprises the reflections of an old man withdrawing from his busy life into his own haven: his small garden, where he sits day and night in his yellow chair in the company of his black cat Moni appreciating the magic of nature: plants, animals, insects, flowers, but mostly the shade of his treasured Tamara, the tamarisk tree. Only the cold winter storms could keep him indoors. He describes the pictures, the sounds and the smells, all the tiny details of his garden, with an elegant sense of humour. Afifi's memoirs offers an intense take on his life as an old man and his perception of place, melancholy and the true meaning of life.
Afifi was born in Sharqiya, and graduated from the Faculty of Law in 1943, receiving his diploma in journalism in 1945. Among his best known books are Tayeh fi London (Lost in London), Al-Tufaha wal Gumguma (The Apple and the Skull), Bint Ismuha Marmar (A Girl Named Marmar), Lil Kibar Faqat (For Adults Only).
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Saheb Al-Beit
Latifa Al-Zayat, Saheb Al-Beit (The Owner of the House), Al-Karma Selections, 2019, pp.328
In the course of 13 chapters Latifa Al-Zayat presents her heroine Samia's relentless attempt to overcome the oppression of her landlord while she and a fugitive husband embark on a long and exciting journey. The story is layered with Samia's spiritual awareness and its development as events rapidly accelerate. Al-Zayat evokes a profound picture of the social oppression exercised on people from different social classes, revealing much emotion.
This novel was published by Al-Hilal Publishing House in 1994.
Al-Zayat, an icon of both leftist politics and feminism, was born in Damietta in 1923, and graduated from the Faculty of Arts, Cairo University in 1946, earning her PhD there in 1957. She was one of the founding members of the League of University and Institutes' Young Women alongside with the late artist Inji Aflatoun. She became an English professor at the Girls College of Ain Shams University and the chair of the English department there. She was also the director of the Egyptian Arts Academy.
Two of Al-Zayat's novels are available in English translation: The Owner of the House and The Open Door. The latter was made into a popular film, starring Faten Hamama and directed by Henry Barakat. Al-Zayat died at the age of 73 in 1996.



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Qawaed Al-Jartin 2: Daqat Al-Shamo

Amr Abdel-Hamid, Qawaed Al-Jartin 2: Daqat Al-Shamo (Laws of Jartin 2), Book Juice for Publishing and Distribution, 2019, pp.303
Another fantasy novel, this book — set in the imaginary land of Jartin, divided into commoners stigmatised as traitors and masters — is the story of commoners Heidar and his wife Sabil. Once they are married Heidar is executed and Sabil disappears. One night much later, Ghofran finds her knocking her door informing her that she is pregnant and the father of her child is one of the rulers. Ghofran is thinking this might be a new start for the commoners but of course she is mistaken. The book also tells the story of three friends, Fadel, Adam and Zoheir, who find an ancient piece of leather containing a mystery.
Abdel-Hamid, an Egyptian author born in 1987 in Daqahliya, made his debut with two short novels in 2008; Hasnaa Al-Qitar (Beauty of the Train) and Casano. The first volume in his Jartin universe is Qawaed Jartin (Laws of Jartin). It was followed by Ard Zicola (Land of Zicola).

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Dhiab Munfarida
Hassan Abdel-Mawgoud, Dhiab Munfarida (Lone Wolves), Cairo: Al-Kotob Khan Publishing House, 2019, pp.215
In this probing and unusual book, novelist Hassan Abdel-Mawgoud presents — in alphabetical order — portraits of 20 Egyptian writers and pillars of the independent literary scene. Abdel-Mawgoud describes their writing, their personal and social lives, and the friendships underlying their work. Though more or less of the same generation these figures — Ahmed Abu Kheneger, Ahmed Abdel-Latif, Ahmed Yamani, Tarek Imam, Omar Taher, Iman Mersal, Yasser Abdel-Latif and Haitham Al-Wardani — do not represent a particular school or genre, they include novelists as well as poets. What brings them together rather is the unique quality of insight Abdel-Mawgoud brings to them and their work, justifying his description of these authors as lone wolves by portraying their distinctive voices and approaches to the literary art.
Abdel-Mawgoud has written two novels, Ain Al-Qitta (Cat's Eye, which won the Sawiris Award in 2005) and Nasiyat Batta (Batta's Corner), as well as three collections of short stories, Al-Sahwo wal-Khataa (Forgetfulness and Error), Saq Wahida (Lone Leg) and Horoub Fatena (Alluring Wars, 2018).

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Ila Mala Nihaya
Sandra Serag, Ila Mala Nihaya (Indefinitely), Noon Publishing House, 2019, pp.192
Roaa Al-Abeid, a girl in her mid-20s with a passion for drawing that she has developed since her early childhood but particularly since the passing of her mother, finally opens her own gallery. Malek, in his early 30s, has been in love with Roaa since their childhood when they were still living in Alexandria. Now they are both based in Cairo along with Roaa's childhood friend Gamila who lives with her. Roaa loves Malek but not in the way he loves her, though he insists on announcing their engagement.
On her gallery's opening night Roaa meets Yamman, a doctor plagued by nightmares in which he sees strange characters, including a woman who speaks an ancient language he can somehow understand, telling him, “It is time.” She first encounters him loudly criticising her work outside the gallery, confronting him when she finds him absorbed by one of her favourite paintings inside. He retracts his opinion, and they soon realise they are having the same dreams.
Serag is a young novelist born in 1996 in Alexandria. She published two novels in 2018: Saarhal (I Will Leave), and Ma La Nabouh Bih (What We Don't Reveal).

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Mamar Al-Halak
Mohamed Mahmoud Suleiman, Mamar Al-Halak (The Passage of Demise), Asir Al-Kotob, 2019, pp.237
This is a fantasy novel that transports the reader into an imaginary world which is delineated in diagrams at the start. The living are the sons of light devoted to one God and they are inhabitants of the land of Rengar, named after their great father Gar. Their white flag has a circle in yellow representing the light their lands reflect. The novel hints at past wars and fear of the future.
Suleiman is a rising star of Egyptian high fantasy who has published Tamarod (Rebellion), Al-Gamia (The Association) and Mosiqa Al-Horriya (Freedom Music).
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Anti Menni
Nour Abdel-Meguid, Anti Menni (You Are from Me), The Egyptian-Lebanese Publishing House, 2019, pp.454
The heroine of this novel is a poor girl named Zeinab, who following her father's death lives alone with her mother, a poultry trader, in the city of Fayoum, trying and failing to achieve a high grade in her secondary school exams. Once while with her mother at the souk the filmmaker Nagi Al-Kebir — whose work has been on hold and who is now planning a comeback — spots her and offers her the lead role. The mother says no, but Zeinab eventually goes against her mother's decision to start a new life in Cairo. The novel describes the struggles of a young woman making a new life in an entirely alien world till she becomes a movie star.
Abdel-Meguid published a collection of poems, Cinderella Returned Barefoot, and her novels Orid Ragolan (I Want A Man) and Ana Shahira, Ana Al-Khaein (I'm Shahira, I'm the Traitor) have been adapted as television series.
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Maraya Al-Shayatan
Mohamed Ibrahim Mahrous, Maraya Al-Shayatan (The Devil's Mirrors), Noon Publishing House, 2019, pp.155
In this supernatural crime mystery, Khaled, a wealthy businessman who lives alone in a vast house, has recently found out he has cancer. Shocked, he recalls an online conversation with his sister Abeer — who lives in the US, having married his best friend Fouad — in which they discussed the story of a magic mirror that can cure fatal diseases. He starts searching for that magic mirror, which his sister later sent him after receiving it as a gift from her magician friend. When that friend died in a car accident, Abeer could see every detail of the accident.
But after looking in the magic mirror Khaled's life will never be the same again. Hallucinating, he suspects he actually killed a girl he met at a nightclub but can't be sure. He cannot remember how he ended up in his car in a strange place with the girl's ring.
Mahrous is an Egyptian novelist who has published a number of books: Ahlam Nariya (Fire Dreams, 2008), Malik Al-Dhalam (King of Darkness, 2009), Shawarei Salem (Salem Streets, 2011), Al-Hassed (The Reaper) and Saed Al-Mawta (Dead Hunter).
Reviewed by Soha Hesham


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