Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
13 - 19 April 2000
Issue No. 477
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BOOKS: a monthly supplement of Al-Ahram Weekly

At a glance

A shorthand guide to the month compiled by Mahmoud El-Wardani
Thrones  Al-Oroush wal-Joyoush, Al-Juz'u Al-Thani (Thrones and Armies, Volume Two), Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, Cairo: Dar Al-Shorouq, 2000. pp562

First published in Autumn 1998, the first part of this book deals with the Arab-Israeli conflict through a day-by-day war diary of the May 1948 War. The second part takes over from where the first part leaves off, revealing not only developments in the conflict itself, but also in Egyptian politics as a whole, and drawing, as is always the case with this leading political analyst, on a wide range of invaluable sources. These include, among others, the minutes of Israeli cabinet meetings from 15 May to 21 December 1948, documents from Zionist archives and documents from 1948 pertaining to the Israeli, American and British foreign ministries. The author also makes use of Ben Gurion's hand-written war diary.

PapersMin Awraq Al-Tis'inat (The 1990s Papers), Farouq Abdel-Qadir, Cairo: Arab Egypt for Publishing and Distribution, 2000. pp329

The senior literary critic Farouq Abdel-Qadir's latest book comprises three distinct sections: a dossier on the late Syrian dramatist Saadalla Wannous, a collection of 27 disparate reviews, and a seamless series of meditations on recent, often politically relevant, non-fiction books. In the section devoted to Wannous, Abdel-Qadir publishes a letter he wrote to the author during the latter's final illness as both an introduction and an antidote to the five illuminating articles collected here on five of Wannous's most important plays. In the second section, Abdel-Qadir collects his reviews of fiction and autobiography, including considerations of authors as disparate as Naguib Mahfouz, Allaa El-Dib, Abdel-Rahman Mounif and Haidar Haidar, and reflecting not only the author's particular interest in works from outside Egypt, but also his thorough approach and classificatory instincts. The third section of the book brings together a number of comments on important non-fiction books, revealing how the discourses they contain inform on each other.

Olives  Ta'm Al-Zaytoun (The Taste of Olives), Sahar Tawfiq, Cairo: Supreme Council for Culture, 2000. pp136

Towards the end of the 1970s, Sahar Tawfiq published a collection of stories, An Tanhadir Al-Shams (That the Sun May Descend) that was well-received, but she seems to have remained strangely dormant since. This new novel, introduced by critic Mohamed Badawi, finally breaks that silence. "In Sahar Tawfiq's writing," Badawi writes, "there is an ever-present moral sense, however this remains hidden, like a secret waiting to be uncovered. It is a voice that must be listened to. It exists in the hypothetical space in which her characters interact, in her way of ordering time, in the sturdiness and clarity of her syntactical construction and in the delicately balanced lexicon that she draws on. This is writing that departs from daily amoral reality, even though it emerges from it, and to it it eventually returns."

TownsModon Misr Al-Sina'iya (Egypt's Industrial Towns), Safi Mohamed Abdalla, Cairo: GEBO (History of the Egyptians Series), 2000. pp526

The five chapters making up this academic study cover roughly five centuries of Egyptian history, from the Arab Conquest in 642 AD to the end of Fatimid rule in 1171. The author adopts an economic approach, on the premise that the Egyptian economy was particularly buoyant during the period in question. In a straightforward, objective way, the book deals with the concept and meaning of madina ("town"), with what Egyptian towns would have been like at the time of the Arab Conquest and with developments they underwent during the period in question. Commercial and industrial centres, towns founded by the Arabs and those predating their arrival are considered.

CairoAl-Qahira Tabouh bi Asrariha (Cairo tells Its Secrets), Abdel-Karim Ghallab, Cairo: Al-Hilal Books, 2000. pp331

Yet another explorer of Cairo's infinite wonders, the author of this book, a "Moroccan writer, academic, minister and participant in the struggle for independence", fell in love with the city even before seeing it. Having visited Cairo continually since the 1940s, Ghallab draws on his tremendous historical and cultural erudition, his traveller's eye for pertinent detail and his first-hand encounters with numerous facets of the city's history in this fascinating account. From ancient Egyptian wonders to the role of Al-Azhar as a grand centre of learning, Ghallab weaves disparate threads together, communicating his own fascination with a city that is often seen as the centre of the Arab World and in so doing creating a work of sustained interest and eminent readability.

Working Class  Al-Tabaqa Al-Amila wal-Hayt Al-Siyasiya (The Working Class and Political Life), Ahmed Salah Al-Malla, Cairo: Zouwiel Publications, 2000. pp194

"A Nation's Memory" is the title given to a new series of books, of which this is a part, aiming to investigate modern and contemporary Egyptian history. The books will be written by scholars whose primary concern, as is expressed in the introduction to this book, will be to "restore the nation's memory and reveal some of what has been absent or has been neglected." The present book deals with the Egyptian working class in the period 1939-1952, placing it in its political context, particularly vis-à-vis the major political powers of the period. It discusses the workers' fears and aspirations, their cultural makeup and the social conditions in which they made their contributions to political life during this highly charged period.

Theory Al-Naqd Al-Arabi: Nazariya Thaniya (Arab Criticism: Another Theory), Mostafa Nassif, Kuwait: National Council for Culture (World of Knowledge Series), 2000. pp287

Grammar and power; research: a collective myth; the figurative world; the order of poetry; the strength of the word; interior monologue: these are only some of the topics tackled in this stimulating "cultural reading" and critique of contemporary critical discourse in various parts of the Arab World. "I have not offered a comprehensive compendium of opinions," the author tells us at the beginning of his study, "since I am primarily concerned with personal meditations that nonetheless pertain to a method. "

Cinema  Al-Wa'i Al-Ijtima'i lil-Cinema Al-Misriya (Social Consciousness in Egyptian Cinema), Adel Yihya, Cairo: GEBO, 2000. pp240

The author of this book on Egypt's cinema has selected 12 Egyptian films screened in 1998 as a sample of what, to use his own words, "Egyptian cinema has come to." And through a close analysis of these films in their social context, he raises the question of where the contemporary Egyptian filmmaker stands vis-à-vis social issues. The conclusion is perhaps a predictable one, given the tightly constructed framework that the author has set out for his book -- a framework that conditions both the terms in which questions are posed and any answers that follow from them. Yet he has managed nonetheless convincingly to sustain his view that Egyptian filmmakers are generally divorced from the social realities in which they live and work.

Maguid Tobya Maguid Tobya's Complete Works, Volume Two, Cairo: GEBO, 2000. pp518

This second volume of the Egyptian short-story writer and novelist Maguid Tobya's Complete Works comprises four of the ten novels he has written: Dawa'ir Adam Al-Imkan (Circles of Impossibility, 1972), Abnaa Al-Samt (Children of Silence, 1973), Al-Ha'oulaa (The Those, 1973) and Ghorfat Al-Mosadara Al-Ardia (The Chamber of Terrestrial Censure, 1978). Taken together, these works demonstrate Tobya's power to impress and fascinate, often departing from the politically obsessed and avant-gardeist norms of post-1950s Egyptian fiction, and drawing on such neglected yet potentially potent genres as science fiction.


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