Temple Bar by Bahaa Abdelmegid

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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.

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Bled dry by Abdelilah Hamdouchi

Bled dry by Abdelilah Hamdouchi

Morrocan fiction

Translator – Benjamin Smith

Source – review copy

I reviewed another crime novel by Hamdouchi a couple of years ago the Final bet. Which focus on a different detective and a different part of the Moroccan society. But this is the first in a new series he is writing set Casablanca and with the Detective Hanash as he heads into the slums of that city. Hamdouchi writes also for Tv in Morroco police dramas. He lives in Rabat in Morocco. This is from Hoopoe fiction a branch of AUC press.

Detective Hanash was in his fifties, and only a few years from retirement.. Everything about him suggested a man who had spent a lifetime interrogating ciminals, studying murderers, and unraveling clues to crimes. This was how he got his nickname “Hanash” which meant “Snake” his real name was Mohamed Bineesa.He would change character by “Shedding his skin” and then “Strike” his prey. Those who met Detective Hanash for the first time immediately got a sense of his strange personality, and those who had met him on multiple occasions tended to find him quite unpleasent

The Detective Hanash described remind me of so many classic detectives.

The problem in crime novels is when to set the murder. To early I find and the characters that have been killed have no backstory and too late it is mat to short for the crime to be solved. Well this book for me has it right. We start by discovering the life of Nezha, she is a young woman that has been drawn into being a prostitute to keep her family together. We see her as she works the men she meets a mixture of men from factory men to police, to religious men. She has got used to the work as it is what keeps her life on track. But then something happens and she and her lover are found dead then step in Hanash a man called the snake by those who know him and because when he gets his prey he will strike. He is drawn into the dark streets and has a connection with the dead that means he wants this crime sorted as soon as possible.

Nezha normally spent the morning hours asleep, and didn’t wake until three or four in the afternoon. She would have a meal with her mother and then prep for another night out. She would shower, get dressed, tie her hair back, and leave the house looking like she was going to a normal job. She’d then head straight to Salwa’s salon, whish she considered a second homeIt was there that she would get herhair done and makeup, in preparation for the evening.

Nezha does it for the family and  tries to keep up normal appearance for everyone.

Now, this is a better than a normal crime novel. The first part of the book is a wonderful look at the underbelly of the city through the eyes of NEzha as she visits her men and we see how extremist are creeping into the city. This is a good piece of social insight. Hanash is a detective that is clearly pencilled out as a bit of a loner a man that maybe rubs his colleagues up the wrong way. Part Rebus part Harry hole, a loose cannon of a detective. world-weary also aware of the reality of the city he lives in as he walks into its underbelly to find a killer. I look forward to reading more in this series it is one of the best crime novels I have read, great pacing, interesting main characters and interesting settings.

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.

July 2019
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