Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
13 - 19 April 2000
Issue No. 477
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

BOOKS: a monthly supplement of Al-Ahram Weekly

To the editor

Italian cooperation

Sir- First let me congratulate you on the excellent quality of your on-line edition of the Books Supplement. It is a much appreciated addition to the sources available on Arabic and Middle Eastern literature on the Internet. I constantly recommend it to my fellow faculty members and students at Venice University.

As member of the editorial board of the Italian monthly review of books, L'Indice, and the magazine's advisor on Arabic books to be reviewed, I am particularly indebted to your esteemed paper for initiating a Books section which informs on recent Arabic titles. We'd like to start a venture whereby L'Indice and Al-Ahram Weekly would exchange book reviews. We are very interested in translating some of the book reviews in your Books Supplement and publishing them in L'Indice. The Weekly could then also translate and publish reviews of Italian books on Egypt, the Middle East and the Arab world, which are published in L'Indice. Of course, copyright of the publication would be stated below each article. If you consent to this offer, we could start by translating one of your articles for our June issue. I look forward to our future collaboration and to reading your next issue of Books.

Elisabetta Bartuli
Lecturer of Arabic literature
Venice University

History lessons

Sir- I read your Books Supplement for the first time in February 2000 and was delighted by the information it provided. I would like to stop at the review entitled "All in the detail" (review of Pascale Ghazaleh, Masters of the Trade: Crafts and Craftspeople in Cairo, 1750-1850 Cairo Papers in Social Science Volume 22, Number 3, Fall 1999 in Books no. 10). I agree fully with the author in that the age of Mohmed Ali marks the begining of industrialisation in modern Egypt, however, unfortunately even now we are still in need of an industrial system based on science and technology, one that could achieve some sort of progress for the country.

The ideas of continuity and contrast in history teach youth beneficial lessons from the experience of our great country.

Ashraf Sobh Ibrahim

Muddle of muddles

Sir- I enjoyed reading the review of Salwa Bakr's recent novel in your last Book Supplement ("Novel of Novels," review of Salwa Bakr, Al-Bashmouri II, Cairo: Supreme Council of Culture, 2000). Being a fan of Ms. Bakr's writings and Al-Bashmuri in particular, I was disappointed to learn that the newest novel is not up to her usual genius. Alas, that is often the case with good novels that have astounding success: the authors try to invest that success by writing a sequel that pushes the plot too far.

Salwa Bakr's genius in the first novel was in using the surviving historical "narratives" -- narratives mostly written from the point of view of the dominant official culture-- to create a narrative that is faithful to the historical past without being contrived. She recreated medieval voices to tell the story of people who were unable to tell their own, using primary sources some of which were written specifically with the aim of silencing those voices. That is pure genius. It's a pity that the sequel "muddles the narratives" as Mr. Wardani put it.

I am also uneasy with the twist Ms. Bakr added, that of the protagonist Bedeir's conversion to Islam. Is it a sign that Copts cannot be accepted on their own terms? A sign that subversive narratives --even in the twentieth century-- have to be reinvented in the image of the dominant culture? Or is as the reviewer put it, Salwa Bakr trying to argue that at heart all religions are the same?

In any case, Salwa Bakr has redefined what a historical novel means in Arabic literature. For that she deserves our admiration.

Madiha Mahmoud


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