Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan
Translator Jonathan Wright
Youssef Ziedan was born in Upper Egypt and raised in Alexandria and studied philosophy and the Sufism .He is an academic and in charge of the manuscript centre and Museum at Alexandria .He has published over fifty books in arabic both fiction and Non fiction .Azazeel is possibly his most well know and controversal ,it also was the international prize for Arabic fiction winner in 2009 .
Azazeel is a wonderfully realistic piece of historic fiction set in the 5th century Ad and told via a translator of the original manuscripts that we written by Hypa at the time .,we are drawn via the main character Hypa a Coptic monk into the begins of modern religions early christian beliefs but what may have also been the belief of people who later became Islamic .Allow set 1500 hundred years in the past there are some parts of this tale still ring true today every one’s struggle with good and evil is the same as we see Hypa wrestle with the devil on his journey through the book .When he wrote the book in Arabic originally it seems Zieden intentionality of unintentionally open a provirbal bucket of worms .It seems rare according to Arablit that books deal so closely with religion in egyptian Fiction .So Hypa in a way this is a man coming of age through the book as he wrestle with him self and his own soul but also the temptations of the outside world .But in this questioning he maybe touches on faults with in the christian faith ,this is what so inflamed the Coptic christians in Egypt .We see Hypa meet merchants ,widow and singer he meets along the way ,for although he is a monk he isn’t a monk in the sense we see monks now he is religious but also has interludes with people one my favourite scenes is with Octavia a women there seems a spark til he mentions he is a monk and then is order from the house .This book is one of those books that has a bit of everything gore ,sex and life but far from feeling like a historic document Ziedan has brought the 5th century to life ,I personally feel this is one of my all time favourite historic novels ,I have struggle myself with novels that are historic that deal with history pre 1800 ,but this one kept me interested from the first to the last page .
A moment of shocked silence passed .Octavia bowed her head ,then looked towards me .Her face was flushed with anger ,and her eyes inflamed with a furious sadness .Suddenly she sprang to her feet and stood like one of those massive ancient statues ,full of pagan vigour and ancestral bitterness .She stretched her right arm towards the door and shouted at me in a fearsome voice ,like the rumbling of Alexandria thunder or the howling of a raging pagan wind “Out of my house ,you wretch ,out you villan ”
Hypa has to leave .
I discussed this book when I was in London with Mark who I feel maybe loved the book even more than me ,we both lament the fact the book which is a great piece of historic fiction , controversial and thought-provoking seemed to have fallen under the radar so much here in the UK on its release with few mentions in papers and the reviews that have come out have come out over time so not catching the eye by being in every paper pone weekend .I fin it strange with recent major uk book prize being won by historic fiction Wolf hall winning the booker and Madeline winning the orange prize last night .Is the fact that this book obviously written by one of the leading experts in the time and full of his obvious insights into the time and the people ,he has spent many years working on real manuscripts from the time so gave this book a real sense of being a real piece of history not a novel .Seems to have fallen onto deaf ears is a shame I feel it is a better historic novel than wolf hall was and also one that gives you many questions about life and religion and yourself after reading it ,which in some way isn’t that the job of great fiction ?
Have you read this book ?
Do you have a favourite Arabic novel ?