Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
11 - 17 May 2000
Issue No. 481
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

At a glance

A shorthand guide to the month compiled by Mahmoud El-Wardani


Warda fi Orwat Al-Faris Al-Nabil (A Rose in the Noble Knight's Buttonhole), Soaad Al-Sobah (ed.), Kuwait: Dar Soaad Al-Sobah, 2000. pp.798

On the occasion of his 70th birthday, Dar Soaad Al-Sobah is celebrating the Egyptian intellectual Tharwat Okasha and his 40-year-long contribution to culture and politics in this enormous commemorative book written by an impressively broad array of writers and scholars and taking its name from an article by poet Ahmed Abdel-Mo'ti Hegazi. The merest sampling of the book's contents will give an idea of its importance: Nasereddin Al-Assad on his personal experience of Okasha; Ahmed Abu Zeid on Egypt as seen from the perspective of culture; Abdel-Qader El-Qott on Okasha's translations of Jubran Khalil Jubran; Ahmed Okasha on his brother's championing of cultural enlightenment; Hussein Bikar on "the maestro of audio and visual culture"; Gamal Hamdan on Okasha the army officer... as well as many other intellectuals and artists whose knowledge and experience sheds much light on Okasha's singular contribution.

Nazariyat Al-Riwaya (Theory of the Novel), Faisal Darrag, Casablanca/Beirut: Arab Cultural Centre, 2000. pp318

Comprising a series of meditations on the theory of the novel, with particular reference to the Arab novel, this book deals with three main ideas: the theoretical domain in which theories of the novel originated; the practical domain in which such theories were put to the test; and the external "cultural and historical" context of both. Drawing on a wide range of references, from the critical writings of Bakhtin and Lukàcs to the works of such latter-day Arab novelists as Emile Habibi and Edwar El-Kharrat, the Palestinian critic immerses himself in the signs and symbols, the aims and methods, of literature. What impresses most about this book, however, is the extent to which Darrag manages to weave disparate strands of thought into a coherent whole, revealing both the relevance and limitations of Western critical discourse to modern Arab writing.

Law lam Akon Misriyan (Had I not been an Egyptian), Ibrahim Issa, Cairo: Samizdat, 2000. pp.214

This book is made up of 93 previoulsy published articles written by Ibrahim Issa, former editor of the now defunct Al-Dostour newspaper, the first of which is entitled "Were the people of the cave right, after all?" In it he argues for a confrontational stance within society, rather than complete isolation from it, which would be akin to the long historical sleep of the Quranic People of the Cave. The drive towards such a confrontational position, and the theme of engagement with society, inform the rest of the articles. Issa employs history, popular culture and folklore to get his views across. The nationalist leader Mostafa Kamil's famous statement, "Had I not been an Egyptian I would have wanted to be," Issa views as sheer romantic rhetoric. The historical conditions of existence provide the starting point for Issa's probing, often sarcastic insights. The historical characters with whom Issa deals -- Al-Hussein (the Prophet's grandson), Abdel-Hakam El-Garahi (an Egyptian university student who died in the 1930s in anti-British demonstrations), Mostafa El-Nahhas (the late Wafd leader) -- are nonetheless treated lovingly.

Fi'ran bila Johour (Mice without Grovelling), Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Faqih, Cairo: Al-Hilal Novels Series, Dar Al-Hilal, April 2000. pp.248

The Libyan novelist Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Faqih wrote the first chapters of this novel 30 years ago following the Arab defeat in 1967 but didn't finish it. He would have abandoned them completely, he explains in his introduction, had it not been for the fact that "the experience with which the book deals is one that is particularly close to my heart, because I had witnessed it directly as a child of ten. Perhaps my getting older, and the weight of the years that I carry on my shoulders, has driven me towards reclaiming this past world, which is otherwise sunk in the void of bygone times in an attempt to recall its characters and incidents and let them be reborn in a literary work that extracts its main features from this human experience, which is as deep as it is fertile."

Fi Intizar Qafilat Tamr (Waiting for Tamr's Caravan), Amani Khalil, Cairo: Zoweil Publications, 2000. pp.87

Egyptian writer Amani Khalil published her first novel, Washish Al-Bahr (The Whispering of the Sea), two years ago. Now her first collection of stories, comprising 23 extremely short pieces, has hit the stands. In her introduction to it the late poetess Malak Abdel-Aziz describes these stories as "transparent instants of human consciousness, expressed with a tightly constructed economy of means, and executed through brushstrokes as swift as they are profound. Amani Khalil combines dream, reality and fantasy into an organically integrated whole, so that the reader is able to apprehend the idea behind each story, even though the writer has neither mystified it nor fully spelled it out."

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