Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 December 2003
Issue No. 669
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Fiction and poetry

A sampling of the most significant fiction and poetry published in Egypt during 2003 bears testimony to a range of developments, from an increasing tendency towards confessional writing to a flowering of the short novel among 1960s and 1990s writers alike.

For 2003, Miret for Publication and Information probably deserves the accolade of "best fiction publisher", having made available a range of exciting new books. These include the latest work of established and older authors like Ibrahim Aslan's delightfully comic collection of interconnected shorter pieces Hikayat min Fadlala Osman (Tales from Fadlala Osman), Gamil Atiya Ibrahim's Al-Mas'ala Al-Hamajiya (The Barbarian Question) and Tawfiq Abdel-Rahman's Ayyam Al-Thulathaa (Tuesdays). They also feature exciting debuts like Ahmed El-Aidi's An Takoun Abbas El-Abd (To be Abbas El-Abd) and the most recent work of younger or older writers who have made a name for themselves: Mustafa Zikri's Miraat 2002 (The Mirror of 2002), Yasser Ibrahim's Bahgat Al-Ama (The Joy of Blindness), Youssef Abu Rayya's Shitaa Al-Ury (Naked Winter) and Haitham El-Wardani's Jama'at Al-Adab Al-Naqis (The Association of Incomplete Literature). Miret also published a volume of confessional prose by the well-known younger poet Ibrahim Dawoud, Kharij Al-Kitaba (Outside Writing).

Egypt's most prestigious private sector publisher, Dar Al-Shurouq, made only two contributions: Radwa Ashour's latest novel, Qit'a min Auroba (A Piece of Europe) and Ibrahim Aslan's Khulwat Al-Ghalban, an excellent book that shouldn't really count since it is constituted entirely of non-fiction. Dar Al-Mustaqbal Al-Arabi, Sonalla Ibrahim's faithful and almost exclusive publisher, produced his latest novel, Amrikanli, while in its monthly instalment of novels Dar Al-Hilal published Awraq Al-A'ela (Family Papers), the latest novel by Mohamed El-Bosati, whose new collection of short stories Al-Shorti Yalhou Qalilan (The Policeman Jests a Little) appeared in the Damascus-based Dar Al-Mada. Al-Hilal also published two new novels by well-known female authors: Maysoun Saqr's Raihana and Salwa Bakr's Sawaqi Al-Waqt (Wheels of Time).

Dar Sharqiyat, once the most active independent publisher in Cairo, made only one notable contribution to the novel: Badr El-Dib's Lahm Al- Hulm (Flesh of the Dream), while it was Dar Al-Bustani that published Edwar El-Kharrat's new book, Madarib Al-Ahwaa (Paths of Passions), along with Saad El-Qersh's Bab Al-Safina (The Ship's Door). Ru'a, a little known publisher, produced a new novel by Safaa Abdel-Moneim, Halawat Al-Roh (Last Breath). More significantly, perhaps, a new series of books published by the producers of the Alexandria-based cultural magazine Amkena opens with the author, Alaa Khaled's interesting new collection of prose pieces, Taraf Gha'ib Yumkin An Yab'ath fina Al-Amal (An Absent Party that Might Inspire Hope in us).

Despite a number of remarkable prose books -- Ben Salem Hemeish's Al-Allama (The Scholar), for example -- the state-sponsored General Egyptian Book Organisation and General Organisation for Cultural Palaces produced more poetry than fiction, with Mohamed Soliman's Tahta Samaa'in Ukhra (Under another Sky) published by the latter and Masoud Shouman's Rigli At'al men Sanat 67 (My Foot is Heavier than 1967) and Youssri Hassan's Saba' Khataya (Seven Sins) -- two new collections of vernacular poetry -- by the former.

The best known vernacular poet of all, Abdel-Rahman El-Abnoudi, published his new collection, Baghdad, with Dar Atlas, while Hassan Teleb, among the best known taf'ila poets working today, published a new book of "narrative poems", Mawaqif Abu Ali wa Rasa'iluh (Chronicles and Letters of Abu Ali), with the Supreme Council for Culture. Ahmed El- Shahawi's controversial Al-Wasaya fi Ishq Al-Nisaa (Commandments on the Love of Women), on the other hand, appeared under the rubric of the Egyptian-Lebanese Publishers. With three collections of poems -- Osama Al-Dainasouri's Ain Sariha wa Ain Mundahisha (A Desultory Eye and a Surprised Eye) and Abdel-Moniem Ramadan's Al-Nashid (The Anthem) as well as vernacular poet Bahaa Jahin's Koufeya Souf lil-Shita (A Woolen Scarf for Winter) -- Miret had a part to play in poetry too.

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