Butterfly wings by Mohamed Salmawy

 

Butterfly wings by Mohamed Salmawy

Egyptian fiction

Original title أجنحة الفراشة

Translator – Raphael Cohen

Source – Library edition

I took some short novels from the library to read on my time off , but as ever when you are away time was short sightseeing and spending time with amanda but I did manage to read this great Arabic novel by Mohamed Salmawy . Salmawy is the president of the writers union of Egypt and secretary-general of the Arab Writers and also editor of a leading daily newspaper. This book came out just before the events of 2011 , so in a way is quite insightful about what happened then .

Doha imagined that meeting Ashraf al-Zayni on the plane had been a chance encounter.It would be over when the flight ended and they went their separate ways- she to Milan for the annual fashion show and he to Palermo in Scilly for the international NGO conference. Fate , however had something in store for her that she neither expected nor imagined.

The three and a half hours of the flight from Cario to Rome left an impression that would remain with her for the rest of her life.She had never met anyone like Ashraf al-Zayni before .She saw in him something she not seen in other politicians, plus  he had brought back to life something inside her that she had not believed still existed

The chancce encounter leaves an impression on the both .

This is a story with two main characters in it Doha is a fashion designer , a sort of link between the west and arab world , she comfortably travels between here homeland and The fashion world of Italy . Her husband is a leading figure in the Murbareck regime . We see their privileged world . But after a chance encounter with Dr Ashraf a man from the opposition she meets when they are both in Rome after talking to him she sees a new insight into her world . But even with this sense the wind may be changing in her homeland she returns and like the old saying about chaos theory a butterfly wings flapping can change the world the butterfly appears time after time whether flying or in patterns on the clothes Doha is wanting to show , the two meet later in the book as the tables are turned slightly from their first meeting  . Add to that a couple of small side stories about a man waiting to meet his internet wife and a pair of brothers hunting for the real mother.

Unable to rest, Doha flicked through The butterflies of Egypt , she came to a photograph of the mural in the tomb where the ancient  Egyptian artist had painted a picture of the butterfly . The tomb belonged to a noble called Nob Amun. According to the book , there were fifty-eight indigenous species in Egypt , which was a relatively small number in comparison with other countries. This was due to Egypt’s desert environment . Neverless , Egypt’s butterflies had adapted to the harsh conditions and were able to survive and maintain their beauty despite hardships

LIke the country itself the butterflies make a good metaphor from the Egypt post Arab spring .

This is another book that captures the can of worms that was opened in Egypt when Murbarek regime was on the verge of collapsing as part of the Arab spring A figure like Ashraf , is a passionate voice of a the young people on the street we saw so much in the TV coverage  clever wanting a bright future , which as we know never really happened . There is also echos of this change in the brothers seeking their mother a new mother maybe is clever metaphor for a new country and leadership. I also love the subtle use of butterflies as a recurring Motif throughout the book. But also a larger motif of the country emerging as a butterfly from it catalyst moment of the riots being the start of something beautiful like a pure white Butterfly. This is clever look at the recent past of Egypt.

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Otared by Mohammad Rabie

Book review: Mohammad Rabie’s Otared, with its shocking, dystopian vision of Egypt’s future, is an eye-opener

Otared by Mohammad rabie

Egyptian Fiction

Original title – Utarid

Translator – Robin Moger

Source – Review copy

When I was contact by the person from Hoopoe fiction the new imprint from AUC , I was more than happy to receive there first few books as I am always meaning to read more Arabic fiction, I read a number a few years ago when Arablit did a list of must read Arabic books in her arabic summer reading challenge , I can’t believe it is seven years ago well more than over due so more Arabic titles on the Blog and today we start with Mohammad Rabie an Egyptian writer , who has written three novels this his latest was shortlisted for this year Arabic book prize.

This blood line put me in mind of many things.

It was traced on the wall, not quite vertically but leaning  at a slight angle and at its apex looping sharply back to the ground. Small droplets hung down, running from the edge of the bend. It reminded me of an ostrich’s tail feather, a column of water rising from a fountain, the glowing tracks of fireworks launched across the sky

The butcher was a true professional.

The opening lines give a sense of what follows in this book as he says thew traces if blood remind him of so much .

 

This is a book about Egypt today but has been written in a future time frame looking back .It is 2025 and Cairo has been invaded by the Knights of Malta this sets a policeman Ahmed Otared also a former sniper to join the liberation force as the city is turned into a den of sex drugs and violence they set about freeing it . Then in another timeline we look back at the failed Arab spring of 2011 through the view of a family that are left feeling alienate and dead after the failed Arab spring . This then leads to the later events when the city uncared for becomes a bloodbath as Otared and his fellow fighters violently try to wrestle back egypt for the Egyptians .

The Tower group was our official designation, and one that no one will ever find recorded in any official document. But it was the term “Hornets “which caught the imagination of the general public and became our Nom de guerre . Truth be told , no one had the slightest knowledge of our presence, but they were aware that there were many snipers stationed throughout the city, on rooftops and up tall buildings. We left a clear trail – an officer walking down the street then dropping without  warning; a soldier sittin g calmly at a cafe, his brains sprayed over the tables of those sitting beside him – and so it was that people came to conflate the Tower group with snipers scattered through the streets of East Cario .

The group Otared is in is killing anyone in the way to get rid of the Knights of Malta from Cario !

This is of course a work of what is a growing move into Genre fiction in the Arab lit world. This book is to say the least is violent it is full of killing and violence as a country wrestles with its self to claim its self back at a point I felt as thou he had swap Beirut of the 80’s for the Cairo of the 2025 the internal violence and way the city is falling apart remind me of those news reports we saw of the Lebanon capital  in the 1980s builds scared with gunfire and a sense of lawlessness in the city itself. I saw an interview with rabie he made for the Arabic shortlist talking about the book and the sense that there was a sense of loss of place in some people’s hearts after the failed Arab spring. This is a book that shows what could happen a dark turn that could be taken an undercurrent waiting 800-1000 died in Cario in 2011 . How many more next time ? A brutal book about a world that could happen , as I said in my wioletta Greg post when did we here in the Uk stop being interested in the world  news (I know we have this on radio 4 and newsnight etc but on our main news it is so much less than years ago ). Have you read any of the Arabic prize books ?

 

Taxi by Khaled Al Khamissi

taxi

Taxi by Khaled Al Khamissi

Egyptian fiction

Original title -Hawadith al-mashawir

Translator – Jonathan Wright

Source personnel E book copy

Khaled Al Khamissi is an Egyptian born ,writer he has written two novels so far .He studied Political science and university .This book thou published in 2006 /7 .A ;lot of what is spoken in the book seems very much still to be the case in Egypt .

‘People wonder why the economy’s screwed up,’ the driver said. ‘It’s screwed up because of people. Would you believe it, a country like Egypt, the people here spend more than 20 billion pounds a year on telephone calls. Twenty billion pounds, I mean, if we didn’t talk for two or three years, would Egypt be different?

Khamissi, Khaled Al (2012-03-15). Taxi (English edition)

 

Taxi is made up of 58 stories or is it voices ,from all round Cairo the voice of the taxi drivers of Cairo ,their  stories paint the city from top to bottom from the upper echelons to the lowest street people ,what we get is a clutter city  but city wanting to move forward ,of hard-working souls and corruption and uneven lifestyles come across .The from seatbelts to cinema ,Iraq ,Palestine and Israeli all crop up in the chats note in the stories .But at the back of it from time to time is the police corruption and the president at the time Mubarak   looming in the background as we see these windows of Cairo tell the tales to a unnnamed man in the taxis .

‘The whole story was business on business. The big guys imported seatbelts and sold them and made millions . The Interior Ministry issued one ticket after the other and collected millions. The wretched cops on the street would stop you and say: “Where’s your seatbelt, you bastard?” and you’d have to slip him a fiver, and if he stopped you when an officer was there , it would be twenty pounds. I mean, everyone benefited.

how they ended up with seatbelts in the city according to one driver ?

Well this book still seems fresh not seven years on yes the modern Egypt has moved quickly ,but one feels from the bits we see on the UK news that the basic problems that underlie these stories and people in the stories are the same .The city comes across as a place of divide but also great characters . I was reminded of the book written about a tube train and its passengers that had great snippets of of there lives .Also the book has a non fiction feel at times ,you never quite sure what has been heard and what was made up ,I feel maybe from what I’ve read about the book one thing we maybe have missed in Jonathan Wrights great translation is dialect that part of the book that if you live in Cairo maybe opens the book even more like a Londoner would gather more from an east end dialect and a city boys speaking but that aside I felt it was a great view into Cairo just before it blew up and maybe in here are a few clues too why it happened .

What is your favourite book on Egypt ?

Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan

Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan

Egyptian Fiction

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 ?

Tales from Dayrut by Mohamed Mustagab

Mohamed Mustagab grew up in Dayrut in the upper Nile region of Egypt ,he was involved in the construction industry before becoming a Journalist ,He Has a number of collections of short stories published in English he died in 2006 aged 68 ,he was also general director of the academy of arabic language in later life .This collection of short stories focus on the town of his birth it ,which is a poverty stricken area but with a rich character as portrayed in these stories and the novella ,we meet numerous characters from the village ,there is a murder in Bughayi bridge where divers and the police discover numerous body parts as the crowd of onlookers grows the bride gives way,after there has been a lot of honor style killings ,some stories are funny like the JBR’s telling of a clan and Jabir the camels they keep ,eating camel meat and drying the sinews ,the book last part is a novella called The secret history of Nu’man A bd al -Hafiz which tells of nu’man becoming a man having his circumcision which doesn’t go quite to plan  and marriage wonderful evocative story of a small town man the description of his life ,even down to the dowries that were passed on by the families on his marriage .

1. forty pounds to be paid in its entirety immediately following the winter hold on irrigation ,meaning the case when umm Nu’mans supply of clamped salted fish had run out .

2. six kilos of buuya wheat or eight of Australian wheat .

3.five ratls of clarified buffalo butter or seven of cow’s .

4.A goat or sheep for slaughter .

the list of dowries items .

The is a real beauty in Mustagab’s writing a man looking back on the characters and environs of his childhood in the town of Dayrut ,the stories are some times edging into the surreal and at times have a real dark satire element ,the area he is talking about is a place rich in spirit and beliefs . This gives a great view of an area of Egypt I didn’t know anything about .As ever Humphrey Davies does a wonderful job on translation but what else would you expect from the prize-winning translator ,the book is published by the american university press of Cairo .This is my third read for the arabic summer reading challenge from arablit blog .I ve some more arabic books as well to read over the next month or two as well.

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