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
When the sea changed its colourYoughiyar 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
Recent celebrations in Egypt of the career of the Iraqi poet Nazik Al-Malaika, on of the pioneers of free verse, have drawn attention to the poet's connection to the country, such as her decision to live in Egypt during a period of convalescence last year. On this occasion Al-Malaika, for reasons best known to herself, put up a barrier against the press, which few journalists were able to penetrate. This meant that Al-Malaika's presence in the country, went largely unmarked. However with the publication of this book this situation has changed, and we now have available a selection of Al-Malaika's work that justly represents her fame.
Al-Malaika herself chose the contents of the selection, and the bulk of the poems she has chosen were written 25 years ago in 1974. Yet, as is the case with all real, sincere poetry, they have kept their direct appeal: 'My love/My rapture was a sea/Which changed its colours, the sockets of its eyes turning black and green/It threw its waves ahead, forged pearls/Flowed into springs, landed on shores/Created tides, made islands/Scattered, across the blue of the gulf, a blond archipelago.' Besides the poetry, the book also includes a fascinating autobiographical sketch, in which Al-Malaika reveals various aspects of her life.
Born in 1923 in Baghdad, Nazik Al-Malaika completed her secondary education in 1939, before proceeding to earn a BA degree in literature from Baghdad Education College. Her attachment to poetry, however, had begun many years before her years of formal study, and she tells us in her autobiography that she composed her first poetry in Classical Arabic at the age of 10 under the tutelage of her father, who was himself a poet. Her family was very important to her in her early years and later, and it was her father who gave her a secure foundation in the Arabic language. Concerned by the presence of grammatical errors in his daughter's early work, he undertook her education himself, something which he had every qualification to do, since in addition to his own poetry he was also the editor of a 20-volume encyclopedia. He, however, was not the only writer of talent in the family since Al-Malaika's mother, who wrote under the pseudonym Omm Nizar Al-Malaika, was also a poet. The young Nazik thus grew up in an intensely literary environment.
"My father laid out a wonderful smooth path before me," she writes here, "when he provided me with books containing the principles of grammar and the classics of our literature. Thus it was only natural for me to be the only student in the Arabic department to choose the various schools of grammar as a topic for my dissertation. My supervisor was a great professor, the late Mustapha Jawad, and he had a profound effect on my intellectual life. The manuscript of my dissertation is still in the college building and carries the corrections that he made on it in red ink."
In her autobiographical sketch Al-Malaika also recounts the influence that the modern poetry of Mahmoud Hassan Ismail, Badawi Al-Jabal, Amjad Al-Tarabolsi, Omar Abu Risha and Bishara Khouri initially exerted on her. She participated at college meetings, where she would read aloud her work that was already being published by newspapers and magazines. Since then, however, like many another poet, she has largely disowned these early works and has not included them in later books and collections. However one memory of this period remains vivid to her, and that is of sitting alone for hours in her parents' back garden, playing the oud and singing the songs of Omm Kulthoum and Mohamed Abdel-Wahab.
In 1947, Nazik Al-Malaika published her first collection of poetry, A'shiqat Al-Layl (Lover of the Night). A few months later news of the cholera epidemic that was then sweeping Egypt arrived in Iraq, and this had a great emotional effect on the young poet. Later she wrote of this time in her autobiography, and specifically remembered events on Friday 27 October, 1947. "I woke up," she writes, "and lay in bed listening to the broadcaster on the radio, who said that the number of the dead in Egypt had reached 1,000. I was overwhelmed by a profound sadness and deep distress. I jumped out of bed, took out a pen and paper, left the house, which was always noisy and busy on a Friday, and went to a construction site close by. Since it was a holiday, the whole place was deserted, and I sat on a low fence and began to compose 'Cholera', a poem that has subsequently become well-known. I had heard that the corpses of dead people in the Egyptian countryside were being carried crammed together on horse-drawn carts, so as I wrote I imagined something of the sounds of these horses: 'The night is silent/Listen to the effect of groans/In the depth of darkness, below the silence, on the dead.'"
It was under these circumstances that Arabic poetry was first freed from the rigid strictures of traditional rhythmic forms and rhyme schemes. Only the tafila, a looser, more flexible metric division, was retained. Nazik Al-Malaika must take much of the credit for this emancipation and, for her part, from that day on she wrote only what she called 'free' verse, rather in the manner of that written by other earlier experimenters in certain European traditions. In 1949 in her introduction to her second volume of poems, Shazaiya wa Ramad (Shrapnel and Ash), she explained the new theory of metre which she had introduced into Arabic poetry and her own practice of free verse. The essay gave rise to a series of attacks on Al-Malaika by proponents of the older poetics, however Al-Malaika, who was not only a poet but was also a theorist, grammarian and musician, defended herself ably. Her years of study and early foundations in the Arabic language meant that she was able eloquently to defend the new practice.
Throughout her life Al-Malaika exhibited a seemingly unquenchable thirst for knowledge of all kinds. As a student she registered in the oud department of the Fine Arts Institute, attended classes in the acting department and took Latin, while she was still a second-year undergraduate at university. To this day, she tells us here, she still plays her oud and sings the songs of Mohamed Abdel-Wahab, Omm Kulthoum, Fairouz, Abdel-Halim Hafez and Nagat. She studied French with her younger brother without the aid of a teacher, and her love of English literature allowed her to earn a scholarship to study at Princeton University, New Jersey, which was then a predominantly male institution in which Al-Malaika was one of the very few female students.
In 1954 Nazik Al-Malaika travelled again to the United States, this time to earn a Masters degree in Comparative Literature. Besides her studies, it was at this time that Al-Malaika began to write an autobiographical account of her life. In 1961 she married her colleague in the Arabic department at the Education College in Baghdad, Abdel-Hadi Mahbouba, who was himself a graduate of Cairo University.
Reviewed by Mahmoud El-Wardani