*Al-Kotob: Wughaat Nazar (Books: Viewpoints), Cairo: Egyptian Company for Arab and International Publications, Issue no. 3, April 1999. pp82
Food for thought
A word from the Editor-in-Chief Hosny Guindy
Time for forgiveness?
Mona Anis revels in a 1960s memoir vividly chronicling the underground life of Egypt's angry young writers
A sun which leaves no shadows
Mokhtarat (Selections), Ghaleb Halasa, Al-Ahram (Kitab fi Garida), February 1999
Mothering the populace
The Pure and the Powerful, Studies in Contemporary Muslim Society, Nadia Abu Zahra, London: Garnet Publishing,1997. pp.308
Lights, camera, chit-chat
Cairo: From Edge to Edge, essay by Sonallah Ibrahim and photographs by Jean Pierre Ribière, Cairo: AUC Press, 1998. pp21+ 70 photographs
The art of conversation
Tawfiq El-Hakim Yatathakar (Tawfiq El-Hakim Reminisces), ed Gamal El-Ghitani. Cairo: Supreme Council of Culture, 1998. pp183
Not quite another country
Alnesaeyat, Malak Hefny Nassef. Cairo: The Women and Memory Forum publications, 1998. pp246
Journey of a giraffe
Zarafa, Michael Allin, London: Headline Book Publishing, 1998. pp215
Village life from within
Denys Johnson-Davies offers insight into Mohamed El-Bisatie's work, and translates an extract from his new novel, appearing this Saturday in the Al-Hilal series
And the Train Comes
Illustrations courtesy of International Commitee of the Red Cross
"Folk drawings and tales", Cairo, 1996
Writer and journalist Mohamed Hassanin Heikal's review of Roland Dallas's biography of the recently deceased Jordanian leader, King Hussein: A Life on the Edge, gives this issue of Gamil Mattar and Salama Ahmed Salama's fortunate collaboration an unusually piquant flavour. Typically, Heikal turns what is ostensibly a book review into a critical assessment of King Hussein's character, infusing it with an insider's view of this politician's extraordinary life, and drawing disturbing conclusions about his role in world politics. But the autobiographical insights which abide in Heikal's article are not this issue's only highlight. Fawwaz Girgis, in his review of The Kissinger Transcripts: The Top Secret Talks with Beijing and Moscow, discusses the recent uncovering of these documents and their implications for Middle Eastern political life in the 1970s, while Ziyad Bahaa El-Din explores the ongoing controversy raised by Max Rodenbeck's sociological study, Cairo: The City Victorious, which offers, according to Bahaa El-Din, the view of a fully integrated khawaga (foreigner). But it is the unexpected appearance of Madonna, in an excellent translation of a New York Times Review of Books composite piece on five recent publications dealing with the figure of Eva Peron and her depiction in the film Evita, that constitutes the issue's most interesting surprise.
*Soheir El-Qalamawi, Nabila Ibrahim. Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organisation, 1999. pp311
Soheir El-Qalamawi (1912-1997), university professor, literary critic and a pioneer of women's rights, operated with equal effect in both the academy and the press. Her spirit of struggle and erudition made her an outstanding example -- a humane woman whose feminism remained inseparable from the nation and society of which she was a part. This book by Nabila Ibrahim, El-Qalamawi's student, focuses on two major strands of El-Qalamawi's thought -- her contribution to criticism both at the theoretical and applied levels, and her creative output as a short story writer. The final part of the book comprises an appendix which includes articles and five short stories by El-Qalamawi, as well as chapters from her most important books: Muhadarat fi'l Naqd Al-Adabei (Lectures on Literary Criticism), Al-Muhakah (Representation), Al-Ramziya (Symbolism) and Taha Hussein kamma Ya'rifuhu Kuttab 'Asrihi (Taha Hussein as the Writers of His Age Knew Him).
*Sifr Amal Donqol (The Book of Amal Donqol), ed Abla El-Reweini, Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organisation, 1999. pp731
Fifteen years after the death of Amal Donqol comes the appearance of this big volume which collects 45 previously published critical essays about Donqol together with five interviews with the poet.
Some of the essays -- those by Ahmed Abdel-Moeti Hegazi, Saadi Youssef, Safinaz Qazim, Radwa Ashour and late Youssef Idris -- are general studies, while others focus on particular Donqol collections or are close readings of a single poem.
Donqol's work preoccupied critics during his lifetime and has continued to do so since his death, making it impossible for the editor, Abla El-Reweini, Donqol's widow, to collect together everything written about him in a single volume. Yet even though extracts from monographs, PhD dissertations and articles published elsewhere in the Arab world have been excluded this by no means exhaustive collection of samples of Donqol criticism remains a huge work. It includes the first published Amal Donqol bibliography, including primary and secondary works in addition to voice and film recordings.
*Mithl Saif Lan Yatakarar Kathiran: Mahkiyat (Like a Summer that will Not Often Repeat Itself: Anecdotes), Casablanca: Dar al-Fanak, 1999. pp224
Since the 1970s Moroccan writer Mohamed Barada has played an important role, at innumerable conferences and symposia, in building a cultural bridge between the eastern and western sections of the Arab world. Mithl Saif Lan Yatakarar Kathiran consists of stories and anecdotes of a mostly autobiographical nature, dating from 1955, when Barada first came to Egypt as a 16 year old secondary school student, to the present day. The "Summer that will Not Often Repeat Itself" in the title is that of 1956, and more specifically one special day of that summer, July 26, the day on which Nasser announced the nationalisation of the Suez Canal. The book depicts a vivid and powerful portrait of the days following that day, leading to the Suez War in Oct. 1956. .A substantial section of the book deals with the 1960s, the period during which Barada received his BA from the Faculty of Arts, Cairo University, and the time he spent working on his doctorate thesis on the late critic Mohamed Mandour, a formative influence on Barada. Spanning four decades, the book is a testimony of an entire generation, with all of its dreams and defeats.
*Al-Sayida allati wa'l-Rajul alathi lam... (The Lady who and the Manwho did not ...), Sabri Moussa, Cairo: Literary Voices series, 1999. pp157
Over the last 40 years Sabri Moussa, best known as a journalist and scriptwriter, has published six collection of short stories, three novels including the widely acclaimed Fasad Al-Amkiah ( "Rotting Placesd"), and three travelogues. The Lady who and the Manwho did not , his most recent collection of short stories exhibits the same straightforward language and avoidance of lyricism and sentimentality that characterises earlier works, as well as sharing the same, gentle irony.
*Buka'iya illa Hafiz Al-Shirazi (Elegy to Hafiz Al-Shirazi), Abdel-Wahab Al-Bayati. Beirut: Dar Al-Konouz Al-Adabiya, 1999. pp77
Renowned Iraqi poet Abdel-Wahab Al-Bayati's latest book of poetry contains one poem in 12 parts and ends with what the poet has called "Complementary Texts". El-Bayati dedicated this love poem to an Iranian woman who was his colleague at Baghdad University 50 years ago. The love he had secretly harboured for her throughout the years has finally found expression in this poem. The comlementary texts included are three article by three critics; namely Mohamed Mazloum, Qassim Al-Barsim and Sami Al-Saquar, dealing with various aspects of this secret love story and the woman at the centre of the story.
*Deen Al-Harafeesh fi Misr Al-Mahrousa (The Religion of the Harafeesh in Egypt the Protected), Ali Fahmi. Cairo: Miret Publishing House, 1999. pp117
This book -- a sociological and historical study of popular religious practices in Egypt -- focusses on the celebration of Christian and Muslim moulids, tracing the links between the dynamics of contemporary rituals and their precedents, some dating to pharaonic times, in an attempt to shed light on the prevalence of superstitious beliefs not only among the Egypt's masses, but also among its elite and even its intellectuals.
*Al-Ibna Faten (Daughter Faten), Naim Sabri, Al-Hadara Publishing, 1999. pp160
The short, fast-paced chapters which make up poet Na'im Sabri's novel gradually unfold into an expansive saga depicting the life and times of a lower middle-class family, their neighbours, relatives and friends. Set against the backdrop of major historical events (such as Egypt's unification with Syria, the 1967 War and the Gulf crisis), Al-Ibna Faten pursues the wavering fortunes of a whole array of elaborately inter-related characters, offering simple, journalistic perspectives on a vast cross-section of Egyptian society, from an old barber's adverse poverty to the reckless extravagances of a contemporary business mogul. The action, which spans nearly half a century (late 1950s to mid 1990s), revolves around the rise and fall of Farouq Saad El-Din, an ambitious businessman, and his illegitimately conceived daughter, Faten, who suffers the trials and tribulations of a perturbed upbringing before settling down to a luxurious and promiscuous life in Alexandria subsidized by a father whom she barely knows. Shortly before Farouq's death, which implies the collapse of his business empire, Faten decides to stop using his money and blames him for not being a true father; she is finally about to embark on an independent life of her own. But it is her hysterical encounter with Farouq's dead body, directly before the funeral in Cairo, that constitutes this novel's most decisive climax; the scene is repeated, word for word, at both the beginning and the end.
*Siwa Door: Poems 1993-1997, Tom Lamont, Cairo: Um El-Dunya, 1998. pp76
Born in Chicago in 1938, Tom Lamont lived in Egypt during the years 1963-1981 and 1993-1997. During this time he taught literature and creative writing, as well as holding administrative positions, at the American University in Cairo. "An explorer of life whether wandering on his motorbike or in front of his computer," as he was remembered by friends and protégés at the time of his death in December 1997, Egypt was for Lamont not only an opportunity for "journeys out into the world", but also a poetic catalyst: his early aspiration to write poetry flowered again here during the last five years of his life, following an inordinately long delay during which he had been continually sidetracked from his poetic pursuits. Besides leading a whole battalion of young student writers and working on his own poems, during his last five years Lamont resumed his habit of seeking out "places offering/ what people have thrown out/ discarded, left behind, or have/ simply forgotten to remember", both within Cairo and beyond. And it was during one such venture, in a favourite local market, that his life came abruptly to an end. This book amply testifies to the value of both Lamont's exploratory urge and the rare poetic gift that he possessed. The distillation of experience of which he was capable, his spiritually charged vision (often described as "Sufi") and his formidable literary skill all combine to transform the old door from Siwa which inspired the title poem into a series of insights about the meaning of life Ð its entrances and exists, the inexorable power of its many kinds of doors: "Soon we learn that some/ things are hidden from us/ or at least agonizingly postponed/ that some doors never seem to open/ that others never seem to close/ and that all doors are/ in some ways forbidden". Anna Boughiguian's drawings complement rather than illustrate Lamont's poems, making every copy of this book an art object in its own write.
*Tujar Al-Tawabil fi Misr fi'l-Asr Al-Mamluki ah (Spice Merchants in Egypt in the Mameluke Period), Mohamed Abdel-Ghani El-Ashqar. Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organisation, 1999. pp571
This seven chapter study of the spice trade in Mameluke times was originally a PhD dissertation. In the first chapter the writer presents an overview of the spice trade in Egypt from the Fatimid to Ayyubid eras before going on to deal with Mameluke efforts to protect the trade from pirates and the levying of unwarranted dues. A detailed analysis of the trade during the time of the Mameluke Sultans is included, covering monetary systems, economic institutions, the souqs, khans, wikalas and hotels. The author discusses the trade routes, the ports at which Mameluke spice cargo ships stopped, the ships themselves and the cultural and political role the traders played in international relations through providing loans and military services. Finally the author examines the domestic and international causes for the decline of the trade, focussing on the role of the Papacy, European pirate raids and the new trade route around the Cape of Good Hope.
*Ragul Tayeb Yukalim Nafsah (A kind man who talks to himself), Girgis Shukri, Cairo: Sharqiyat, 1998. pp81
The depth of vision and robust construction of these prose poems testify to the viability of "the new poetry" (al-shi'r al-jadid, in contrast to al-shi'r al-hadith) as an abiding and versatile medium. In this, his second collection of poems, Girgis Shukri differs from other young proponents of the genre in that he eschews its taboo-breaking and subversive aspects, emphasizing instead the evocative attention to detail and unpretentious humanness which have characterised it: "The world this morning/is kind as a funeral/and empty as things/which have lost their love." Like other 1990s poets, Shukri employs a straightforward diction, foregoes social conventions and opts for subtle analogies and a terse, forthright avowal of (often controversial) personal sentiments. His originality lies, rather, in the poignant cynicism with which he imbues such universal themes as love and loss, death and the ups and downs of everyday existence. The specificity of Coptic experience comes through, too, but it is to Shukri's carefully chosen, precise images, the spare use he makes of metaphor and the sense of hope he somehow manages to muster that credit is ultimately due: "And we/ only need closed rooms/ in which to spend the moments imprudently/ so as to call them makers of happiness."
*Nizwa: A quarterly literary Journal; Oman: Oman Establishment for Press, News, Publishing and Advertising, Issue no. 18, April 1999 . pp272
The 18th issue of Oman's leading cultural quarterly, painstakingingly edited by poet Seif Al-Rahbi, opens with an interview with the celebrated Syrian poet, Adonis (Ali Ahmed Said) Ð a particularly interesting choice, in the light of the ongoing debate about Adonis's role as a (the?) trailblazer on the path of modern Arabic poetry, which arose during the poet's presence in the last Cairo Book Fair. Other well-established contributors include Mikhail Ne'ima and Youssef El-Qa'id. Nonetheless it is the rich variety of the material presented, and its consistently high quality, that establish this magazine's credentials, proving the Omani government's five-year-old initiative more than viable. In his introductory note Rahbi asserts the importance of reaching out, both geographically and historically, to such domains of the mind as "hidden corners of the past and remote prospects of the future". A lecture by American novelist Toni Morrison, an autobiographical text by Fellini, a celebration of Brecht's anniversary and a comprehensive investigation of the work of Spanish sculptor Carlos Ibara are only a few examples of the numerous shadows this "mirror of Omani, Arab and world cultures" reflects. Significantly, this issue also incorporates texts by Borges, Grass and selections from the earliest pioneers of Omani poetry.
*Al-Tifl Al-Manbuz (Testaments Betrayed), Milan Kundera, Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organisation, 1999. pp259
Rania Khallaf, a young writer with a short story collection to her name, has made Milan Kundera's second major work of non-fiction accessible to Arab readers for the first time. The eight clearly demarcated chapters that make up this important contribution amount to a ground-breaking inquiry into literature, music and art, as well as the fascinating parallels which only an intellect as formidable as Kundera's can draw between them. Khallaf worked from the English text, which was completed under the supervision of the author, and her rendition of the book's scrupulously articulated insights, though inaccurate at times (The Arabic title reads: The Ostracised Child), conveys all the depth, eloquence and virtuosic playfulness of Kundera's eclectic, "specifically novelistic" gift. "Kundera is unable to forgo life's greatest questions," Khallaf writes. "But we mustn't expect quick, ready-made answers. Rather, he answers as if he were proposing new questions. The process of questioning never stops, and Kundera goes even further: he ridicules all fixed preconceptions, be they social or historical. The nature of history and existence itself are subjected here to a precise scrutiny, [as Kundera] searches for meaning behind the history of the novel, and in so doing takes stock of Europe's entire artistic past."
*Arba' Masrahiyat 'Iraqiya (Four Iraqi Plays). London: Ishtar Publishing House, 1999. pp248
Since it was founded Dar Ishtar, a publishing house based in London, has specialised in Iraqi literature produced since the Gulf War. Its most recent publication in the Thaqafa did Al-Hissar (Culture versus Embargo) series, comprises four short plays: Abaa' lil-Bei' aw lil-Ijar (Fathers for Sale or Rent) and Al-Lu'ba (The Game) by Qassim Mohamed; Niharat Al-Layali Al-Alf (The Daytimes of the One Thousand Nights) by Abdel-Kahliq Al-Rukabi; and Awatif No'eim's short piece, Al-Moharrij (The Jester).
Reviewed by Mahmoud El-Wardani and Youssef Rakha