Minor Detail by Adania Shibli

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli

Palestinian fiction

Original title – تفصيل ثانوي

Translator – Elisabeth Jaquette

Source personal copy

I must admit I haven’t reviewed as much Arabic fiction as I use to I have a number of books on my shelf and had a couple of other books I thought would be on the long list this year. This book I was aware of and would have got round to eventually as I have read nearly all the blue cover books from Fitzcarraldo and have not read a bad book from them. Adania Shibli has written a number of other books she has previously had three other books translated. She studied at the University of East London. She was also on the list of writers under 39 that was collected together in Beirut 39. She now lives in Berlin. So here we go on the latest stop on this year’s Booker international longlist.

After dinner, he went straight to the second hut, where he told the guard to bring the girl and follow him, and he headed to his hut. Followed by the guard and the girl, who were in turn followed by his dog. On the way there, he passed by the supply dump in the middle of the cam and appeared a few moments later woth a folding bed, which the guard rushed to carry for him.

When they arrived at his hut, he took the folding bed from the guard and brought it inside, while the others waited outside. after a moment a latern’s glow, then the noise of furniture being moved around the room reached them

Just as the act the minor detail is due to happen.

The book revolves around a minor event in the summer of 1949 as the Israeli army is setting up camp in a remote area what follows is the mundane event of setting up the camp near the Egyptian border in the desert.  what we see is the boredom of this camp from the point of view of their commander. The heat and uneventful nature of this camp lead to a horrific event when the first people they see a group of Nomads passing through who the troops that are trigger happy after the waiting kills them but one bedouin women has been left alive when the Commander brings her back to the camp she is raped this event just a small part a minor detail in the war is rediscovered in the present by a writer as she vis in Ramallah trying to uncover more about the events that lead to this horrific crime. It shows the past and present and how little has changed and the way not to lose the past avoid rewriting history.

so, one morning when I was reading the newspaper, and happened across an article about a certain incident itself that began to haunt me. Incident itsef that began to haunt me. Incidents like that aren’t out of the ordinary, or let us say, they happen in contexts like this. In fact they happen in contexts like this. In fact, they happen so often that I’ve never paid them much attention before. For instance , on another morning when it was raining. I woke up late, which meant I couldn’t sit and work at my table in front of the big window; instead I had to go straight to my new job. When I arrived at my stop, and got off the minibus a bit before the clocktower.

The reading of a minor detail gets a writer down a rabbit hole of wanting to find out more about what happened.

This is a clever way of using the past and present the two views of the same event and looking at what happened to this Bedouin girl the only person left after the rest of her group was killed by the soldiers. And a writer from the modern-day and reading about this event and what happened in a brief report in a newspaper. That sparks her to have to try and find out more about this and this minor detail in history. but it shows how little has changed for the Palestinians in modern Israeli as she struggles to get to access the sources for the info. As she gets through the labyrinth of bureaucrats. The first part of the book is an account of war but also the way it can lead to horrific events like this the events are like what happened in Lord of the flies or clockwork orange where a group of young males whether school kids, a gang or a group of soldiers overstep the mark. This does what a good novella should do and that feels like an epic on a small scale this takes one single event and like a Macro lens blows it up to it fills the screen and is thus a motif for the great events of the war of independence

Winstons score- B a solid novella leaves the reader thinking for a while after.

The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous

The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous

Syrian Fiction

Original title – Kha’ifoun

Translator – Elisabeth Jaquette

Source – personal copy

Over the last few years, I haven’t reviewed enough books translated from Arabic I have felt so when looking for potential booker international longlist books there were two titles that had been shortlisted for the Arabic international prize this and another book which won the prize. So I reviewed this first the other is in my tbr and if it makes the list will be read quickly if not in a month or two. Dima is a writer I had read a few years ago as part of the Beirut 39 collection of writers she had studied French literature at Damascus University and the Sorbonne. She then became a Journalist and worked on TV. She caught the eye of many literary critics for her 2007 short story collection Details. This is her second novel.

A few weeks later, it did all happen again. I left Kamil’s office and found the main sitting on the front steps. smoking. “Coffee?£ he asked. I thought about how he’d invited me for a cup of coffee and then ordered a beer. He’d abridged hir invitation this time, an enquiry with a question mak suspended in the air. I copuld see it flying around his head , attatched ti a string of letters jumbled on top of each other, obscuring one another. I nodded, agreeing reluctantly, and started walking; he followed me. Almost immediately I stopped.

The Frightened ones are based on two friends and former lovers when Suleima and Naseem meet at the therapist in pre-war Syria in Damascus in the waiting room and started an affair. They are from different backgrounds Suleiman is an anorexic woman with a number of anxieties and worries around men. She falls for the charming Naseem a doctor that has his own horrors he constantly smacks his face this is a broken pair in a broken country so when He leaves and then sometime later send to his former lover his first book as she reads on what she finds he has written the story of a woman with Anxieties and issues with her family as she loses her male relatives to the war that is tearing her homeland apart. she slowly starts to gather she is reading her own story that he has written into a novel. As he has taken her life as his own. Suliema hasn’t painted in a number of years since the death of a close family member. This lifts the lid on the horrors of living in fear and under constant terror.

I remember our living room well. i remember our carpet, green with dark dreen embroidery, and how I often rolled it out to play. The only thing that cut out the silence was the creek and chirp of the wooden shutters, I lived my childhood in silence, so much so that when I summon the few scenes I do recall to memory, they appear with out soundl They’re silent. No commotion. No voices. No ,music, Just windows chirping.

The electricty ofent wentin ur building for days at a time, those across the way would still be lit, while we alone were drowning in Darkness. Our power lines were connected to the close-knit neighbourhoodof Esh al-Warwar, some distance away, where most residents were from Alawite officers famlies.

The opening if Naseems manuscript does she Suliema see paraells in her own past !!

The book shows where reality and fiction can blur over time as the two lovers were separated over the war as she stayed and saw her family die and he left but he used her sorrows anxieties to build his novel. It shows the horrors that can be caused by the war on the mentality of the public and the busy therapist waiting room and those left in the country as it descends into madness.  As the constant threat of both death but living under a dictatorship with the fear of getting caught or worse. This isn’t a fast-paced book more a book that opens the reader’s eyes with it wonderfully insightful prose looking into the horrors of everyday life with a poetic mix of metaphoric insights into everyday life. Also, the anxiety of that also of love under those conditions and that is followed by betrayal has a powerful message about the horrors in Syria. As the book in the later part divides between Suleima story and her reading Naseem’s work as the two unfi=old and at times cross each other the lines of fact and fiction blur. Now if this was the Old IFFP prize I would have this higher up the list as it a book Boyd the old head judge would like. Have you read this book? or have any favourite recent reads translated from Arabic into English?

Winstons score – B great but in parts, it wanders

The Sand child by Tahar Ben Jelloun

The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelloun

Morrocan fiction

Original title – L’Enfant de Sable

Translator – Alan Sheridan

Source – Personal copy

Well, I move to North Africa and an older modern classic from that country that has been sat on the shelves for a while to read. The last book I reviewed from Morroco had a link to this writer as it was also set in the Tazamamart prison which featured also in Ben Jelloun’s best-known book This blinding absence of light. He is often mentioned as a future Nobel winner he has written in French although Arabic is his first language. He has written twenty or more novels and has won a number of big book prizes over the years including the Prix Goncourt.

The father had had no luck. He was convinced that some distant, heavy curse weighed on his life; out of seven births, he had seven daughters, the mother, aunt Ayshaa, and Malika, the old servan woman. The curse was spread over tim. The father thought that one daughter would have been enough. Seven was too many; tragic, even. How often he remembered the story of the Arabs before the advent of Islan wo buried their daughter alive! Since he could not get tid of them, he treated them not with hate but indifference.

Hajji has had a run of daughter so when he has had seven that is enough he makes a plan for number 8

The book starts with Hajji telling of the fact that he had seven daughters to his wife and no matter what his next baby was going to be a Son no matter what happened. So he knew his money would pass through the family as the daughter in Islamic law at the time is only able to get a third of the estate from the Father. Which his brothers knew and had pointed out that they would end up with his money if he hadn’t given birth to a son. So when they are expecting an eighth baby he decides no matter what the babe will be a boy and passes on so much to the elderly midwife Lalla his plan to make even a daughter into a son Lalla ios elderly and sees the benefit of the idea. So when his wife finally gives birth and it is a daughter the secret of that is known by just two people Hajji and the midwife. as the child, who is called Mohamed Ahmed grows they talk about having their chest tied up which is to stop her breast from developing. HE is married to a sickly daughter of a relative the story is told in the form of a storyteller and the young Mohamed writing to a friend but what will happen will Mohamed gather she is actually a woman? there are telltale hints here and there throughout the book and how the father always seemed to have the answer then later are storyteller end up blind and this is a nod to Borges of course.

The truth goes intoo exile. I have only to speak and the truth moves away, is forgotten; I become its gravedigger and disniterer. That is how the voice is: it does not betray me. And even if I wanted to betray it, reveal it in all its nakedness, I could not. I would knt know how. I know its requirement: avoid anger, avoid tenderness, do not shoutm do not whisper- in short, be ordinary. I am ordinary. And I trample underfoot the image that is unbearable to me. God, how heavy that truth wieghs upon me! I am the afchitect and the house, the tree and the sap, a man and a woman. No detail must disturb the harshness of my task, whether from the outside or from the bottom of the grave. Not even blood.

Later his decison wieghs heavy on him and this is just as the  young Mohamed has her first period !

I have the absence of blinding light by him as well but this one jumped out of me as the story seemed one I would enjoy the tale of a down on his luck husband that keeps wish for a son to only have daughters then he decides to sacrifice his youngest and let her grow up a boy in this age of people being able to be more gender fluid this tale of a deliberate swapping of gender seems horrific as it highlights the pain the child had to undertake to be passed as a boy. But also shows how religion can affect people it also highlights the prevailing system at the time in Morroco run by its elderly King. The novel uses the storyteller to tell the story within the story of the book it has nods later on towards Borges not only with the story becoming blind but also when later on the book its has a few Magic realism and Borges touches to the story. This book can easily be read in a day as it is under two hundred pages and each chapter moves the story as we move through various gates. Have you read any books from Tahar Ben Jelloun?

Tazmamart by Aziz Binebine

Tazmamart by Aziz Binebine

Moroccan Memoir

Original title – Tazmamart

Translator LuLu Norman

Source – review copy

When this arrived I decided it was a good time to read a few other books from Morroco alongside this one and I found I had two others both of which had a connection to this book. Aziz was a young officer when by chance he was caught up in the attempted coup on King Hassan 2nd. His brother is a prize-winning Moroccan writer Mahl Binebine. The story of his time in Tazmamart prison which he told his fellow Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun which he used as the bases of his novel this blinding absence of light.

By evening,everything was ready. The drill had been rehearsed a few minths earlier, but with different actors, this time, the finger of fate pointed to us. After a hard day’s work, we gathered for supper in the officers mess, in combat uniform of course, with guns and ammo.as he entered the mess, ithe school’s doctor, a young Feench Lieutenant doing his military service, exclaimed “My god, you look like you’re planning a coup!” A burst of laughter greeted his remark, but a seed of doubt had been sown.

The night before the coup that was meant be an exercise but could be seen as a coup!!

Aziz Binebine was an officer and from a family close to the King his father was an adviser to the king when one day he was told of an exercise the next day that they were doing. At the time he jokes it could almost be a coup so when this exercise was an actual coup the young man was caught and captured and then sentenced to ten years in prison he initially went to a normal prison but then after another coup he and 57 fellow prisoners are taken to a special underground prison the king had built so these men will be forgotten. The only escape is death in their tomb as he calls it they are fed poorly and have to live through illness and sickness they survive through keeping each other spirits up in Aziz part that is through retelling the novels he remembers over and over again. Baba Driss his fellow prisoner a man that imagines he is being attacked by snakes as he loses his grip a close friend from his academy days also loses his will to lie this is a story of Aziz but also those around him.

At midday the guards arrived, they served us a smallbread roll and a carafe of chickpeas boiled in water with a little salt. This would be eternal, unchanging menu, with a pot of pasta, again boiled in a slightly salted water

Ass the transfer had taken place in mid-augusty, we each received a khaki canvas shirt and trousers, the classic military summer uniform. The striped uniform of civilan prison were taken away, through we kept the plastic sandals we’d arrived wearing.we swapped our clothes quite cheerfully. Deep down, we were almost relived to take off that shameful apparel in favour of the more or less reputable uniforms of the army, to which – after all we still belong.

The arrival at the new prison is grim food wise for them.

Now, this sounds familiar as it was a three-hour interview he gave many years ago to Tahar Ben Jelloun that was the base of his prize-winning novel but since then he has said he had neem pressured into the interview and in an open letter denounced the book. I will be reading that book later in the month. But this is a personal account the names are the names not like in the novel where a character has been made up. This is his memory of those 18 years in Tazmamart the horror of having to do surgery on oneself to live, to remember works of literature which remind me of the recent NYRB book that captured  Józef Czapski’s lectures on Proust as he recalls retelling those great Russian writers he loved this shows the hope literature can give as I read in Albert Manugels history of reading where there is a section about books that have been read by prisoners over various times. The other thing he does is show the loss of his inmates over the 18 years half of those 58 prisoners didn’t make it to see the light of day most of them ending up going mad with the despair of their situations. Have you a favorite book from Morocco

 

 

Memoirs of a Woman doctor by Nawal El Saadawi

Memoirs of a Woman Doctor by Nawal El Saadawi

Egyptian fiction

Original title – ” مذكرات طبيبة

Translator – Catherine Cobham

Source – review copy

I decided to take a detour from the Booker list and I had read this when I was sent it and never got to it which is a shame as I really enjoyed it and I admire Nawal as a person called the Simone De Beauvoir of the Arabic world she has long been a champion of women in the Arabic world. former movements for both female rights and human rights within the Arabic world. She was also a doctor before being a writer. I was grabbed by her a  few years ago when she was on the BBC show Imagine talking about her life she even showed the first practice which is in this book.

I hated being female. I felt as if I was in chains – chains forged by my own blood trying me to the bed so that I couldn’t run and jump, chains produced by the cells of my own body, chains of shame and humiliation. I turned in on myself to cover up my miserable exictence.

I no longer went out to run and play. The two mounds on my chest were growing bigger. They bounced gently as I walked. I was unhappy with my tall slender frame folding my arms over my chest to hide it and looking sadly at my brother and his friends as they played.

The years she becomes a teen and more visible as a woman.

This is a fictionalized version of Nawal’s own journey in many ways. The narrator of the books is a driven young woman growing up in fifties Egypt. Her observations as a child reveal much about the society of the time.  her older brother always has the best in there home the larges slice of meat at breakfast that she sees as unfair. The best things are always his and as she grows even thou she is younger she is bigger than her brother. she is determined to study medicine. This is a wonderful female take on the Bildungsroman genre as we see her fight the male-centered society from her fellow students when studying medicine. She cuts her hair and avoids the arranged marriage her parents try to push her into. Then when she becomes a doctor her patients are shocked she is so beautiful as a doctor this line made me laugh as thou the beauty of the doctor made a difference. A failed marriage against her parent’s advice but when he tries to tell her what to do in the home she decides he isn’t the one. She is battling all the time is that perfect man just around the corner.

I left my room and went to sit in the big common room. I opened a medical journal and tried to read it, but I couldn’t help my thoughts straying to the doctor’s wing where the colleague on night duty was nownow asleep. For no obvious reason it occurred to me that i was alone with a man in the middle of the night and only a closed doorseparated e from him. Althouh I was wide awake this idea came to me like a dream and I felt afraid …. No,Not afraid,worried..No, not even that, for I felt desifre, or not quite desire but a strange disturbing feelin that made me glance furtively at closed door from time to time

It is hard for her at the medical school as this pasage shows.

This is a very short book easily read in an evening. Great feminist work about how determined women in a very male-centered society could make her way even with hurdles put in front of her. The shock of her first view of a naked male when she was at medical school when she had to cut up a dead male and this was her first view. I felt the latter part of the book was maybe trying to put too many years into too few pages which is a great shame as the early family years and the time studying were very captivating. But the later times were maybe lightly covered. This was her first novel and it was a great debut I was sent the other books that  Saqi brought out in there Saqi bookshelf series.

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

Celestial bodies by Jokha Alharthi

Omani Fiction

Original title – Sayyidat el-Qama

Translator – Marilyn Booth

Source – personal copy

When the man Booker longlist was announced this is the one book I really knew nothing about and is the first I have reviewed from Oman. It is published by the small Scottish publisher Sandstone press that hit the headlines a few years ago when one of the books made the Booker longlist since then they have been doing a few books in translation including the Babylon Berlin books which I keep meaning to try any way this is the third novel by Johka Alharti and the second book by her to be translated into English she studied Classical Arabic poetry in Edinburgh her works have been translated into English, German, Italian, Korean and Serbian.

Mayya, forever immersed in her Singer sewing machine, seemed lost to the outside world. Then Mayya lost herself to love: a silent passion, but it sent tremors surging through her slight form, night after night, cresting in waves of tears and sighs. There were moments when she truly believed she would not survivethe awful force of her longing to see him.

Her body prstatrate, ready for the dawn prayers, she made a whispered oath. By the greatness of God – I want nothing, O Lord, just to see him. I solemnly promise you, Lord, I don’t want him to look my way … just want to see him. That’s all I want

Mayya has a heart break from a man she loves but can’t be with.

In the intro, it says that the novel tries to capture the two sides of Oman the Modern and traditional side and the struggles of the country from the 20th century. The book is formed of a family saga from the early twentieth century to Now. The story is told in the lives of three sisters and their marriages Mayya who has a huge heartbreak when the man she loves broke her heart and then settles for marriage but then rebels when she gives birth to her first daughter and instead of picking a name that the family would approve she calls her London. The Khawla moves to Canada after her betrothed who has been there for a number of years but it turns out he has been living with a woman. Then Asma the most traditional of the sisters marries the book also revolves around the rest of the family the male member Mayya husband is the main character as the chapters go between the family stories and Abdallah as he is returning home on a plane. The contrast between his present and the past in the other chapters one of the slaves and traditional values at the start of the century. Then his own life of Lonon now grown and not had the happiest of lives his own childhood. This is a compelling picture of a country changing.

As much as I have travelled, I still like getting the seat by the window. I like to stare down at one city after another, dwindling and then vanishing. Papa, London said once, you travel an awful lot. I did not say to her that when we are away from home, in new and strange places, we get to know ourselves better. And that is exactly the way it is with love. London does not know much about strange places or being far from home but she certainly knows about love. Her stubborn endurance under her mother’s blows allured and pained in equal measure, until I cracked the whip myself and married her to him.

Abdallah on his plane home talking about London his daughter that has a life different from her.

Now I shortlisted this above the other book that was translated from Arabic it is a wonderful description of her homeland and the way it has moved through the last century. It is a book th\t in its scope is maybe more an epic but not as long as that  being only 240 pages but has the feel of a 500-page novel there is a variety of characters as you see the world of Oman through three sisters there husbands children and parents that show a land that struggles to be modern with its traditional nature. So a great intro to books from Oman also a gem of a find from this years longlist one of two. Have you read any other books from Oman?

Winstonsdad Man booker shortlist 2019

I was going to not read the list and did my usual guess of what would be on the list and got it so far wrong I wanted to see what was in these books and yes I managed in a month to get nearly through them all bar hundred pages of the Can Xue novel which by the time this post is up I may have read them as I am on the road to Alnwick tomorrow and a short holiday. So my six shortlisted books are-

Drive your plow over the bones of the dead by Olga Tokarczuk

What happens when nature kicks back we see here when things start happening in the Polish hinterlands in a small community. A previous winner is different to flights and shows the depths of her writing.

The shape of Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

Image result for the shape of ruins

A book that sees Vasquez as a character in his own book that is about an assignation of a Columbian politician almost like there JFK a great historical novel.

The years by Annie Ernaux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A powerful little book at post-war  France and its generation told through pictures, movies, books, events, and life it builds a vivid picture of the years that followed the war.

At Dusk by Hwang Sok-Yong

An architect is greet by his past in a story that sees two sides of lives in Modern Korea from two people that grew up in a working clas  area and went in different directions but meet at the moment there worlds both are about to change.

The Death of Murat Idrissi by Tommy Wieringa

Image result for the death of murat idrissi

 

Maybe the shortest book on the list but for me it is the most powerful as it is about a subject that we all see on the news that of immigration and he uses four characters to encompass a wider world.

Celestial bodies by Jokha Alharthi

 

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

I am yet to review this but this family saga shows the growth of Oman through the lives of three sisters and the family of the sisters going back to the early 20th century and to now with one of the main stories being told by a relative on jumbo heading home to his family.

So here are my six books an  interesting list of books I have discovered three maybe four books that have passed me by. What are your thoughts on the books on the list ?

My Name is Adam by Elias Khoury

My Name Is Adam_TPB.jpg

My Name is Adam by Elias Khoury

Lebanese fiction

Original title – Awlad AL-Ghetto- Esme Adam” (أولاد الغيتو- اسمي آدم)

Translator Humphrey Davies

Source – review copy

Well I haven’t reviewed a novel by Elias Khoury in a while. I reviewed While you were sleeping and Yalo a few years ago. I am a huge fan of his work he has a wonderful way of capturing the world he lives in and is lauded as a future Nobel winner and one of the leading voices of his generations of Arabic fiction. This latest book he uses a modern writer to look back at the moment in 1948 when the world around his home fell apart. This book is the second time he has tackled the 1948 conflict but this time from a whole new angle.

These notebooks came into my possesion by coincidence, and I hesitated at the length before deciding to send them to Dar Al-Abab in Beiruit for publication. To be hionest, the reason for my hesitation lay in that ambigous feeling that combines admiration and envy. love and hate, I had met the writer and hero ot htese text. Adam Dannoun or danoun in New York, where I reach at the university. I remember I fold my Korean student how good looking I thought he was . It was towars the end of Feburary2005.If memorey serves me correctly.

This is a clever book which sees the writer himself Elias Khoury looking into fictional writers notebooks. This happens when the man Adam Damnoun he is an old man who grew up in the early years of the founding of Israeli but eventually left there and fled to the US. He strangely for an Israeli strangely end up in New York working in a restaurant serving Middle-eastern dishes where his path crosses the real-life Khoury the two talk but when Adam sees A version of one of Elias books as a film,  he storms off and that seems to be it. But when this old man dies in a fire his lifetime of notebooks falls into the hands of Elias Khoury. What we see is Khoury reading and pulling into shape this mans past and his family connection to the events that happened in 1948 around the city of Lydda an infamous massacre and what was his families part in it! The tough times that the 1948 conflict had on everyone on each side. What was his true / past is he the man Khoury thinks he was or had Adam been someone else in the past and just rewritten his history. Was the man Khoury got to know as Adam really an Israeli or Palestinian.

As my mother told the tale, I was born in thrist. Now, as I write about that woman who vanished from my life when I was fifteen, I don’t know whether her lips were indeed cracked in Parallel, straight lines, or of it is the image of thirst, which has pursed me since childhood, that transforms her thirsty lips whenever I recall her.

She was my mother, and she was Manal, daughter of Atif Suleiaman, f the village of Eliabourn in Galiee. When I remember her , I say “Manal was …” for to me she’s like the first word in a sentence that was never completed. After I left the house at fifteen to work in Mr Gabriel’s garage in Haifa, I discovered that the woman passed through my life like a sigh of wind, leaving behind her nothing but her world of stories,

The stories of his mother and his mix together in this book.

I love the framing device here of the fictional meeting of these two men of similar age one that is a clever device for Khoury telling the story of 1948 from another angle. The point when Adam runs off and losses contact with Khoury is when he saw the Film version of Khory’s book A gate of the sun which is another book dealing with 1948. So when Khoury starts working through the notebooks of Adams history and tales of his families life through the same time he gives light to another voice and another world from Adams perspective. This is the first in a collection of novels by Khoury called the Children of the Ghetto a nod to Lydda which is where the first ghetto in the region as the native Palenstines called it.

Temple Bar by Bahaa Abdelmegid

Image result for bahaa abdelmegid temple bar

 

Temple Bar by Bahaa Abdelmegid

Egyptian fiction

Original title – Khammarat al-ma’bad

Translator – Jonathan Wright

Source – personal copy

So we move from Lampedusa yesterday across the med to North Africa and an Egyptian Novel mainly set in Dublin. As I have felt I haven’t reviewed enough Arab fiction I have gone out and got some recently and this is the first of those I am reviewing. Bahaa Abdelmegid is a lecturer in English literature at Cario University. He himself was a student in Ireland at Trinty College at the same time as the character in his book Moataz. Not entirely Autobiographical in an interview at the time the book came out he wants the hero of the book to be like those in Passage to India or A Death in Venice.

As soon as she had gone, the landlord and I went up to the room. He was aman in his seventies, but well-built, with sever features, a powerful voice, and white hair like his mother.He showed me how to use the gas meter saying that you have to put fifty to cook a meal and warm the room for two hours, fifty pence to use the electricty for a day and fifty pence to have a shower.The more energy you cosumed the , the more you paid. I remembered reading in the Cario newspaper Al-Abram that Ireland imports natrual gas from Egypt through an underwater pipeline.

The cost of his digs adds up bit by bit as he is told how far fifty pence will go in the meters.

Moataz has got a scholarship to Trinity college as he is doing a Ph.D. on the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. He has a family that has very high expectations of him. So the trip to Dublin has given him a breathing space in his world. He arrives and is sent to a boarding house with an old fashion landlord that tells him he will have to pay fifty pence for this fifty pence for this. He nearly ends up on the street early on when his father is late putting money in his account and leaves him penniless. He wanders the streets and sees the ghost of Ireland great writers as he wanders like the hero of Joyce Ulysses Bloom and Stephen did. Moataz is a man haunted by those women he left behind failed romance and the woman he meets in Dublin and is drawn to them. He struggles forced in the middle of the day to sell flowers to make ends meet. He also ends up in Trouble with the law in Dublin which leads him to head out of town. The trip out of town has a lasting effect on him he heads North to Belfast and the troubles in the north. A different city from Dublin he says full of politics and struggle but leaves it calling it his O beautiful Belfast as it was where Heaney studied at Queens. He eventually returns to Cario and marries but is a man changed by his time in Dublin.

The beautiful women of Dublin

When I started at Trinity college in Dublin, I couldn’t work out the university women. I couldn’t tell whteher they were conservative and shy,or whether they just didn’t welcome freindship with a young foreign man. They didn’t speak to me and I couldn’t find the right words to start a conversation with them. Pergaps I was shy too, perhaps I  had litttle knowledge of women ot too many miscinceptions of western- that they were easy and available , so why was it difficult to get to know them ?

Moataz and his experience early on with the women of the university before he met Simone!

I choose this book just because it is a book about a subject I love that of Culture clash seeing a place you know well through another cultures eyes. I spent a lot of time in my youth in Ireland mostly around Belfast but have also spent time in Dublin. This is like Heinrich Boll’s book Irish Journal or Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas one that is an ode to the country and the writers that haunt the city of Dublin especially Joyce. Although the modern multinational Dublin we see through Moataz eyes is a far cry from Bloom’s Dublin his view of the city is similar crossing the Liffey, flower sellers and underlying sexual desires. Bloom and Moataz share that repressed nature one remembers Blooms description of the woman on the beach in Ulysses that is echoed somewhat in Moataz meet Simone. He also captures the time this is just after the Good Friday deal but at this time the bombing of Omagh happened which is touched on a bombing that touched our family as we have relatives in that town as well that had friends effect by the bomb. A short book easily read in a day but one seep in the writers love for Ireland and the writers but also the effects of that town on a young Egyptian writer.

The Harafish by Naguib Mahfouz

Image result for harafish naguib mahfouz

The Harafish by Naguib Mahfouz

Egyptian fiction

Original title –  ملحمة الحرافيش

Translator – Catherine Cobham

Source – personal copy

I was looking for a number of books to do for the 1977 club and this was another that cropped up as coming out in Arabic that year. Mahfouz was a Nobel winner. He was regarded as the first truly modern writer in Egypt and his books have been described as Existentialist in their style. He is maybe best known for his Cario Trilogy. A man that spoke out for what he believed in most of his books were banned in the Arab world to his Nobel win. It also gives me a chance to fill a gap in the writers that should be on this blog.

Nothing like this had ever happened in the alley. The police only came near it in extreme emergencies. The clan chief’s numerous crimes were usually unattributed, thanks to the testimony of false witness. was inspector Faud Abd al-Tawwab going to do what nobody had done before him of Mohammed Anwar’s body was discovered on the path or under the archway? How had Muhammad had the insolence to go to the police for help, and why had the inspector been ready to challenge Nuh in this underhand way?

The police were rare visitors to the Alley here because someone went outside the alley world.

The harafish is a family saga told over ten chapters as we follow the family living in an alley from Ashur Al Nagi whom is the chief of the family in the first tale through the years and generations til the last story Ashur crops up again the chapters are told in small vignettes. I liked the style it was almost like reading or listening to gossip on the street among the Harafish as the people of the alley are called. Exist is hard at times I remember a line on page 301 where someone says “you’d preserve your youth forever ” this shows the toughness of this world. The cycles of the alley violence trying to get to the top is repeated over the chapters the characters are different sons or daughters of earlier characters. I loved the part in one chapter, when the police appeared which was considered an outrage as they liked to run there own little world.

The emotions of the Nagi family and the harafish were set in turmoil by the unexpected return and sudden disappearence of Samah. His sons were probably the least affected of anybody because he came and went while they were asleep and anyway, as far as they were concerned, he was no longer much more than a faint memory, like their mother in Bulaq. His story was told far and wide, and became a legend and a cautionary tale.

The opening of the fifth chapter and already past battles become like a myth or legend.

This is a clever book as you think it is cardio and feel as though you know the timeframe of the novel. But nothing is ever said about the timeframe of the novel or the location of the book all we know is that the families live in an alley where the characters all live. A true family saga covering the years of a place. Mahfouz was a fan of Zola and Balzacs works and there is a feeling of their worlds here a tough look at life realist but also at the same time without time and place it could be another place even if you change the names and in that regard for me it is a true work of Existentialism of the question why are we here why are they there what makes their world. A great second choice for 1977club and for me another piece in the canon of books and writers I have covered on the blog. I hope at some point to bring the Cario trilogy to the blog.

 

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