14 - 20 October 1999
Issue No. 451
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
The long journey
A Border Passage: From Cairo to America -- A Woman's Journey, Leila Ahmed, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999. pp307
Tales of the desert fox
The Armies of Rommel, George Forty, London: Arms and Armour, 1999. pp254
A peace with no winners
Ya Salam (Peace!), Nagwa Barakat, Beirut: Dar Al-Adab, 1999. pp190
Rural migrant workers in Egypt
Rural Labor Movements in Egypt, 1961-1992, James Toth, Cairo: AUC Press, 1999. pp246
Secret and moral histories
Al-Qame' fil-Khitab Al-Rowa'i Al-Arabi (Repression in the Discourse of the Arabic Novel), Abdel-Rahman Abu Ouf. Cairo: Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, 1999. pp263
New guide for the virtual traveller
The Splendours of Archaeology, ed. Fabio Bourbon, Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1999. pp352
When the sea changed its colour
Youghiyar Alouanah Al-Bahr ( The sea changes its colours), Nazik Al-Malaika, Cairo: Afaq Al-Kitaba (Writing Horizons) series of the Cultural Palaces Organisation, 1999. pp211
Next week, the Supreme Council for Culture will hold an international symposium to mark the passing of a century since the publication of Qasim Amin's The Liberation of Women. Here, Al-Ahram Weekly remembers Mai Ziyada, one of the most remarkable advocates of women's liberation in the Arab world
The mirror of Mai
Bahithat Al-Badia and Aisha Al-Taymouriya, Al-Anissa Mai (Mai Ziyada), edited and introduced by Safynaz Kazem, Cairo: Al-Hilal, 1999. pp372
Introducing Miss Mai
By Safynaz Kazem
At a glance
By Mahmoud El-Wardani
Magazines and Periodicals:
* Alif : Journal of Comparative Poetics, No. 19, Cairo: The American University in Cairo, 1999
* Dafatir Thaqafiya (Cultural Notebooks), No. 22, Ramallah: The Palestinian Ministry of Culture, August 1999
* Nizwa , No. 19, Oman: Oman Institution for Journalism, News, Publication and Advertising, Summer 1999
* Fusul (Seasons), quarterly issued by the General Egyptian Book Organisation
* Al-Romouz Al-Tashkiliya fil Sehr Al-Sha'bi (Plastic Symbols in Popular Magic), Soliman Mahmoud Hassan, Cairo: General Organisation for Cultural Palaces, 1999. pp.231
* Islam in the Balkans , H. T. Norris, trans. Abdel-Wahab Aloub, ed. Mohamed Khalifa Hassan, Cairo: Supreme Council for Culture, 1999. pp299
* Leonardo, Edmundo Solmi, trans. Taha Fawzi, Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organisation, 1999. pp223
* St Mark and the Foundation of the Alexandrian Church, Samir Fawzi Girgis, trans. Nassim Megali, Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organisation, 1999. pp159.
To see other book supplements go to the ARCHIVES index.
Illustrations courtesy of International Commitee of the Red Cross
"Folk drawings and tales", Cairo, 1996
A peace with no winnersYa Salam (Peace!), Nagwa Barakat, Beirut: Dar Al-Adab, 1999. pp190
The story of the post-war struggles of those who benefited from the years of civil war in Lebanon, Ya Salam is a sober, disturbing, rigorously structured meditation on the meaning of redemption in a city that has 'lost the habit of weeping'. Beirut of the 1990s provides Nagwa Barakat with an inspiring starting-point from which to approach the trials of a long-awaited, and supposedly precious peace, but it is her apprehension of disaster and the after-the-deluge flavour of her narrative that form the real substance of the book. She places an emotional distance between herself and her feelings about the war and her subject matter, which concerns the doings of a group of war profiteers trying to come to terms with the peace.
The vocative Ya Salam! of the title not only supplies the name of the female protagonist, Salam, who had been engaged to a dead torturer, Al-Abras (the leper), but is also an ironic reference to the state of peace (salam) now reigning in Beirut. Barakat seems to be saying that after a war like the one just past, redemption is something of a myth. A city that has lost the habit of weeping cannot hope to be at peace with itself, even when all the machinery of war is removed. And what seems to be a passionate denunciation of the individual monsters who populate the city is, in effect, a level-headed and detached reflection on the warped values of a profoundly traumatised, ultimately pitiable general predicament.
The action centres on Loqman, a former militiaman, who has befriended Salam and exploits her desire to marry him. He takes her money and spends it on drink and prostitutes. He has got Salam's brother out of the way by convincing her that it would be better for him to stay in a psychiatric hospital, at least for the time being (he had suffered a nervous breakdown following the death of both his parents in the war). Loqman, his friend Naguib, and Salam embark on a potentially profitable business project that, they think, will 'bring back the old days'. They hope to found a company specialising in the control of vermin.
Beirut has a problem with rats. An old psychiatric patient explains that rats, together with human beings, 'are the only living things that make war on their own species. Neither benefits any other species, and each destroys other forms of life'. Loqman, meanwhile, is having an affair with a French woman of Lebanese origin, who has come to Beirut to do excavation work. Intent on emigrating to France, he presents himself as a broken war hero, and when she invites him to Paris, the possibility of redemption, or of a new life, seems to open up before him. He pursues that possibility. Meanwhile, Naguib and Salam have become involved in a chain of events that leads to the death of Naguib and of Salam's brother. Loqman, on a rare visit to his friends, finds Naguib's body and Salam, raving and unkempt. He has no intention of helping, but before he leaves he meets another one of the conspirators, Loris, who tells him that all the doors are locked, that she has turned on the gas, and that he too must die.
Barakat ends her novel at this point, and it is clear that now there will be no new life in Paris. There is no way out. Barakat supplies a final twist, however, when the clouds above Beirut begin to weep; none of the characters in the novel weeps, it does not rain, and people talk of the clouds that promise rain, even as they complain about the stifling heat. Now that the clouds, like the readers, have caught a glimpse of what life is like in this city that has lost the habit of weeping, however, they want quickly to move on. And so it is they, rather than the novel's characters, who escape. "The clouds gathered quickly, getting ready to leave", Barakat explains. "They looked down, and, bidding the city farewell, they began to cry."
Reviewed by Youssef Rakha