In this rich and intricate novel, Naguib Mahfouz guides us through the history of an alley whose denizens—some fearsome, most fearful, a few fearless—are all the descendants of one man, Gabalawi, who now keeps himself hidden away in the mansion at the top of the alley. From the supreme feudal lord who disowns one son for cruel pride and puts another to the test, to the savior of a succeeding generation, we observe the men and women of this quintessential Cairo neighborhood unwittingly reenacting the lives of their venerable forebears, telling through their rivalries, battles, love affairs, and miracles the spiritual history of mankind.
In a houseboat moored along the banks of the Nile, a group of disaffected middle-class Cairenes who gather each evening to socialize experience a tragedy that rips apart their friendships.
Set in the sleepy Egyptian village of Muntaha during the late 1940s, this novel paints a vibrant portrait of rural life in Egypt that is both moving and memorable. Between the turbulent events of 1948 and the final years of the British presence in Egypt, the village’s inhabitants find themselves caught up against their will in the swirl of larger world events, although their daily lives, concerns, and beliefs are grounded in the timeless nature of a rural past. Hala El Badry’s masterful narrative depicts, in intimate detail, her characters’ relationships, not only to each other but to the natural environment that surrounds them: from fishing on the Nile and cotton and corn harvests, to chicks raised to be members of the family, crazed bulls, hordes of ravenous locusts, and donkeys and sparrows gone tipsy on overripe fruit.
The trials and fortunes of Taha El Musaylihi, the mayor of Muntaha, together with those of his extended family, form the backbone of this tale of real life in the guise of fiction. Confronted with the fear and injustices born of war and foreign occupation, as well as the insecurity of their dependency on Nature and her forces, Taha joins the village farmers in
valiant defiance of their British occupiers.
This novel, written originally in Arabic, takes the reader through the emotional and political upheavals that beset Algeria from the 1940s to the 1980s by following the paths of two of the emerging nation's new leaders, the one a militant artist, the other a young fiction writer.
Basrayatha is a literary tribute by author Mohammed Khudayyir to the city of his birth, Basra, on the Shatt al-Arab waterway in southern Iraq. Just as a city's inhabitants differ from outsiders through their knowledge of its streets as well as its stories, so Khudayyir distinguishes between the real city of Basra and Basrayatha, the imagined city he has created through stories, experiences, and folklore.
By turns a memoir, a travelogue, a love letter, and a meditation, Basrayatha summons up images of a city long gone. In loving detail, Khudayyir recounts his discovery of his city as a child, as well as past communal banquets, the public baths, the delights of the Muslim day of rest, the city's flea markets and those who frequent them, a country bumpkin's big day in the city, Hollywood films at the local cinema, daily life during the Iran Iraq War, and the canals and rivers around Basra. Above all, however, the book illuminates the role of the storyteller in creating the cities we inhabit. Evoking the literary modernism of authors like Calvino and Borges, and tinged with nostalgia for a city now disappeared, Basrayatha is a masterful tribute to the power of memory and imagination.
Clamor of the Lake begins with the appearance of an old fisherman of unknown origin sailing a black boat. Taciturn and enigmatic, he takes on a woman and her twin boys. While he gives away nothing about his past, his undemanding companionship prompts the woman to narrate her turbulent life. Meanwhile, in a nearby village by the lake, Gomaa and his wife have found respite from the dreariness of their existence in the fantastic objects the sea churns up during gales - a sword, alluring panties, a talisman. But when the waves cast up a chest that speaks in a language no one can comprehend, Gomaa is haunted by its voice. As the tumult of the lake drives a wedge between the couple, it turns two neighbors into close allies: Karawia, a café proprietor, and Afifi, a grocer. Eventually, they too will be haunted by the siren song of the lake.
In Mohamed El-Bisatie's lyrical novel, the stories of these various figures converge on the mercurial presence of the lake, which in the end proves the narrative's true hero. An accomplished experiment in the poetics of space, Clamor of the Lake won the 1995 Cairo International Book Fair Award for Best Novel of the Year.
Cairo, Mother of the World, embraces millions but some of her children make their home in the streets, junked up and living in the shadows of wealth and among the monuments that the tourists flock to see. Mustafa, a former student radical who never believed in the slogans, sets out to tell their story, but he has to rely on the help of his American girlfriend, Marcia, who he is not sure he can trust. Meanwhile, his former leftist friends are now all either capitalists or Islamists.
Alienated from a corrupt and corrupting society, Mustafa watches as the Cairo he cherishes crumbles around him. The men and women of the city struggle to find lovers worthy of their love and causes worthy of their sacrifice in a country that no longer deserves their loyalty. The children of the streets wait for the adults to take notice. And the foreigners can always leave.
Pharaoh Khufu is battling the Fates. At stake is the inheritance of Egypt's throne, the proud but tender heart of Khufu's beautiful daughter Princess Meresankh, and Khufu's legacy as a sage, not savage, ruler.
As the tale begins, Khufu is bored in his great palace at Memphis. To entertain him, his architect Mirabu expounds on the mighty masterwork he has so far spent ten years building, with little yet showing above ground - what will become the Great Pyramid of Giza. Mirabu and the clever vizier Hemiunu try other amusements as well - but to no avail. Then one of the king's sons fetches a magician with the power to predict the future. The sorcerer says that Khufu's own offspring will not inherit Egypt's throne after him, but that it will fall instead to a son born that very morning to the High Priest of Ra. Furious, Khufu and his crown prince, the ruthless Khafra, set out to change the decree of the Fates - which fight back in the form of Djedefra, the boy at the center of the prophecy, and his heart's desire, Princess Meresankh. Yet will the unsuspecting Khufu survive the intrigue around him - not only to finish his long-awaited book of wisdom, but to become truly wise?
This novel of home and homelessness, of exile both physical and psychological, centers on Kimi, a fragile heroine suffering from a rift in her persona, unable to distinguish between her own pain and the pain of others. For Kimi it is not a simple case of to be or not to be, but rather of how to be in disjointed and contrary times. Leaves of Narcissus, like earlier Arabic novels about East-West encounters by male writers such as Tawfiq al-Hakim, Taha Hussein, and Tayeb Saleh, is about a young Arab student going West in search of education. Here, though, the protagonist is a young woman and her destination is Ireland, a part of the West and at the same time a victim of the ravages of colonialism -- adding ambiguity to the customary representations of the East/West dichotomy. In this captivating novel, Somaya Ramadan displays a rare virtuosity in evoking and interlacing literary motifs -- from the popular to the learned, from the folk to the mythic, from the Egyptian to the Irish -- and poses questions rather than answers, questions that hold a mirror to our selves.
This novel from one of Tunisia’s leading writers, the first of his works to be translated into English, narrates a love story in all its stages, in all its glorious and inglorious details. Moment by moment we become acquainted with the morning rituals, the desires of the flesh, the turbulence of the spirit, and even a few unattractive personal habits. It is a journey that takes us inside the nuances of what passes between two lovers, from the first glances of attraction to the final words of anger. It is a journey filled with all the hallmarks of the complex relationship between one man and one woman—the mystery and the ambiguity, the intricacy and the confusion—which, in the end, serve to expose its fragility. This is an intimate tale that manages to tell not only the story of two individuals, but also that of the collision of two cultures.
The pharaonic novels of Naguib Mahfouz
Against the background of the high politics of Sixth Dynasty Egypt, a powerful love grows between Rhadopis, a courtesan whose ravishing beauty is unmatched in time or place, and youthful, headstrong Pharaoh Merenra, worshiped by his people as a divine presence on earth. Rhadopis comes of poor peasant stock, but her star rises until she become the most celebrated woman in the kingdom, entertaining her countless lovers, who include the most powerful men in the realm, with her dancing, singing, and stimulating intellectual conversation in her white palace on an island in the Nile. Despite the attention and the endless stream of suitors, however, Rhadopis’s heart remains cold and loveless—until events conspire in the strangest of ways to bring her to the attention of Pharaoh himself. From there the two of them embark on a journey of intense passion that is totally absorbing and ultimately tragic. As their obsession for one another burns wildly, they become caught up in the violent turbulence of the politics of the day—Merenra through his desire to sequester the properties of the priesthood and Rhadopis by her efforts to control the march of destiny and avoid their untimely but inevitable fate. But for Rhadopis, who has played with men’s minds and danced on the scattered shards of their broken hearts, and Pharaoh, who has sought to flout ancient tradition for his own ends, can the power of love ultimately offer protection?
An ‘anti-memoir’ set against the backdrop of the Chernobyl disaster
In the spring of 1986, Mohamed Makhzangi was living in Kiev, an Egyptian doctor studying in the Ukraine. As a result, he—like thousands of others—found himself living a nuclear nightmare when the Chernobyl plant had a catastrophic meltdown. Despite numerous fail-safe protections, human error sent massive quantities of deadly radiation into the serene spring of the Soviet sky. In superbly crafted prose, Memories of a Meltdown describes the days that followed from Makhzangi’s dual perspective, as both an outsider and a victim. Described by the author as an ‘anti-memoir,’ this assemblage of impressions in the aftermath of the meltdown offers a searing account of factual events distilled through the filter of literature. Blending the realism of journalism with the emotional resonance of fiction, Makhzangi conveys the quiet but steadily mounting atmosphere of fear and panic, the dubious reliability of official statements, and an overall loss of the sense of safety, of anything ever being right with the world again. From the balding colleague who is concerned only about whether his hair will fall out, to a grandfather, fetching his young grandson a drink, who believes that there is less contamination in hot tap water than cool, Makhzangi portrays people unwilling or unable to believe in the magnitude of the disaster unfolding around them. In the finest tradition of literary reportage, Makhzangi masterfully conveys here the loneliness of exile, the urgency of a great tragedy, and the intimacy of personal experience.