Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
13 - 19 July 2000
Issue No. 490
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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


Mahmoud Said's Cemeteries of Bacchus at Alexandria, reprinted from the Cultural Development Fund's memorial book on the Egyptian painter



Rassai'l Taha Hussein (The Letters of Taha Hussein), and Information, 2000. pp250

This book demonstrates how the works of Taha Hussein, a quarter of a century after his death, remain a rare and profound reading experience for anyone interested in the nation's cultural life. A kaleidoscopic view of the extraordinary man's correspondence, the book includes letters to, as well as from, Hussein. There are letters here to the Wafd leader Mustafa El-Nahhas, to the Education Minister Naguib El-Hilali, to Hussein's student Soheir El-Qalamawi, and to friends such as the popular novelist Ihsan Abdel-Quddous and the renowned author Mai Ziyada. With every change of subject matter comes a change of tone, amply testifying not only to Hussein's formidable literary skills, but also to his far-ranging erudition and to the positions he adopted on debates concerning such issues as the independence of higher education, the need to introduce modern scientific methods into academic research and the sense of Egypt's cultural connection with Mediterranean Europe. All these issues are as relevant now as they were when Hussein wrote on them. One can only bow in admiration.

Al-Saraya Al-Hamraa (The Red Palace), Ramsis Labib, Alexandria: "New Culture" Library, 2000. pp372

This is the latest in a series of novels and short-story collections by this profoundly Alexandrine writer who has neither left Alexandria nor published anything outside the city's "New Culture" library since he started writing in 1972. The film critic Ahmed Youssef introduces the novel as follows: "When you enter into the novelistic world of Ramsis Labib, you immediately realise that you have stepped into a private world that occupies the twilight zone between dream and reality. In this world you are able to share Labib's experience ... an experience that combines joy with misery and pleasure with pain."

Global Culture, ed Mike Featherstone, trans Abdel-Wahab Alloub, Cairo: Supreme Council for Culture, National Translation Project, 2000. pp414

The 22 contributions that make up this book have been written by a number of erudite scholars of various political-cultural orientations, who have between them adopted widely divergent approaches to the question of whether there can be such a thing as a global culture. Of all the recent books on globalisation, this book is particularly clear and balanced. Its full and effective Arabic translation is therefore a commendable effort, especially since it is one that has filled a crucial gap in Arabic literature on the topic. Issues dealt with here include revolution, modernism, nationalism, cultural conflict and the global economy -- all of which are aspects of a single issue, that of finding the ideal form for the coming global culture.

Jama'at Apollo (The Apollo Group, Volume One), Abdel-Aziz El-Dessouqi, Cairo: Organisation for Cultural Palaces, Memory of Writing series, 2000. pp322

Jama'at ApolloIn the interwar period, a new poetic movement emerged in Egypt calling itself the Apollo Group and headed by the poet Ahmed Zaki Abu Shadi. In many ways it was a highly developed extension of the most important modern Arabic poetic movements, the Renaissance Group, whose guiding star was the poet Mahmoud Sami El-Baroudi, and the Diwan School, whose foremost participants were Abbas Mahmoud El-Aqqad and Ibrahim Abdel-Qadir El-Mazni. This book's full title is "The Apollo Group and its Influence on Modern Poetry." First published in 1960, it is introduced by the late critic Mohamed Mandour, and it deals, among other things, with the political circumstances surrounding the emergence of the movement and with the cultural pessimism that dominated some of its participants. El-Dessouqi documents the history of the movement comprehensively, providing the basis for his view that it constituted the beginnings of contemporary poetry.

Hazai'm Al-Montasserin (Defeats of the Victors), Ibrahim Nassralla, Beirut: Institute for Arab Studies and Publication, 2000. pp220

Defeats of the VictorsThe Palestinian writer Ibrahim Nassralla is a phenomenally prolific writer who has published 13 collections of poetry and six novels since 1980. In this book, however, he has turned his attention to cinema, offering a literary perspective on a wide array of films. Yet, in the six chapters that make up the book and that deal with American films from Forest Gump to Saving Private Ryan Nassrallah never once refers to Arab or Egyptian cinema -- something that makes one sceptical of the value of his enterprise. Nevertheless, in an extended introduction, Nassralla attempts to explain what drove him towards writing about the cinema, and this deserves to be quoted from: "Cinema forces you to benefit from its acumen, and from the terrible intelligence that it wields, deploying all the other arts in its service and at the same time reflecting on them with irony... Cinema forces us to learn from its techniques, in the way many early filmmakers learned from literature..."

Muthakirat Mohamed Lotfi Gom'a (The Memoirs of Mohamed Lotfi Gom'a), Mohamed Lotfi Gom'a, Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organisation, History of the Egyptians series, 2000. pp651

Born in 1886, the writer of these memoirs stopped writing only in 1937, documenting on the way an impressive range of political and social developments. Politician, lawyer, journalist and all-round public figure, Gom'a witnessed a fascinating period in the history of the nation, observing the implications of the British mandate and travelling to Europe to complete his education. He gives a panoramic view that embraces such significant historical figures as the progressive religious leader Mohamed Abdu and the nationalist Mustafa Kamel, as well as poets such as Hafez Ibrahim and Ahmed Shawqi. The book therefore offers indispensable insight into the workings of a fast-changing society, and is admirably lucid and digressive.

Ahwal Misriya, cultural quarterly, issue no.8, spring 2000, Cairo: Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies

Ahwal MisriyaThe new edition of this quarterly incorporates an extensive and important folio on Egyptian labour abroad, with articles on a range of relevant and related topics from events in Kuwait to the economic projects undertaken by Egyptian expatriate businessmen returning from abroad. Mohamed Badri presents the accounts of various people who have been first-hand witnesses of Egyptian labour abroad, while Said Okasha tackles the influence of Egyptians on Gulf Arabs, particularly regarding popular musical tastes in Egypt. Diaa Hosni follows the trails of Egyptian immigrants in the cinema, and Ibrahim Farghali writes about immigration in literature. The issue also includes a statement by veteran actor Ahmed Mazhar, as well as articles on a variety of topics from suicide to the hijab. Hosni Abdel-Rehim takes stock of the Nitaq Festival that took place in downtown Cairo a little while ago, while Sayed Mahmoud reviews the Ministry of Culture Cultural Development Fund's memorial book on painting icon Mahmoud Said, edited by painter and critic Esmat Dawistashi.

Nour, occasional periodical of Arab women's writing, issue no.16, summer 2000, Cairo: The Arab Women House for Research and Publication

NourThe 16th edition of this feminist review of books opens with an article on women and identity by the critic Amina Rashid and an essay on the works of the Lebanese novelist Hoda Barakat by Seza Kasem. Divided into literary and sociological reviews, the issue, which is -- typically -- somewhat slim for an occasional magazine, features Rashid and critic Sayed El-Bahrawi, as well as a host of academics and writers reviewing an array of books ranging from Virginia Danielson's A Voice Like Egypt, an exhaustive study of Umm Kulthoum's life and work against the backdrop of Egyptian society, politics and culture (by Assem El-Dessouki) to the young writer Nora Amin's novel, Qamis Wardi

Farigh (An Empty Pink Dress) by a contemporary writer, Montasir El-Qaffash. This issue's section of short reviews is excellent, while the closing piece, Yumna El-Eid's investigation of sex-education teaching in schools raises questions about Arab society and its gender definitions.

Fusoul (Chapters), occasional periodical of literary criticism, issue no.1, 1998 (sic), Cairo: General Egyptian Book Organisation

FusoulThe only Egyptian magazine devoted specifically to literary criticism, Fusoul has lately indulged a propensity to appear later than advertised. The current edition thus appears two years later than the date on its cover (Summer 1998). It opens with critic Gaber Asfour's now outdated statement of resignation from his post as Editor (he has since become secretary-general of the Supreme Council for Culture). The present edition is the third in a series dealing with the Arab novel, incorporating a range of essays on a variety of topics, from the specificity of the Arab novel (by Ibrahim Fathi) to an expansive analysis of Naguib Mahfouz's epic, Al-Harafish (by Mohamed Badawi), and from Fawziya Ass'ad's article on the "literature of exile" to Boutrous El-Hallaq's investigation of the overlap between autobiography and novelistic polyphony. Other highlights include transcriptions of symposiums that took place during the last Conference of the Arabic Novel.

Fikr wa Ibdaa', occasional periodical, issue no. 5, March, Cairo: Centre for Arab Civilisation

Fikr wa ibdaa'"International myths" (by Ahmed Kamal Zaki), "the literary process" (by Youssef Noufal) and "the [free] association of debate concerning [the great Abbassid poet] Abu Tammam" (by Gouda Amin) are only a few of the topics dealt with in this occasional publication from this literary magazine. Other articles, such as Mohamed Gebril's essay on Arabic narrative strategies and Youssef El-Sharouni on sci-fi elements in the writing of Egyptian literary icon Tawfik El-Hakim, serve to establish a firm intellectual-historical map on which to place various aspects of contemporary Arab discourse. That part of the publication entitled "non-Arabic material" is rather disappointing, however. As well as including Arabic translations of highly eclectic (if not completely arbitrary) European texts, it includes English translations of a handful of Arabic texts that can only be described as obscure.

Al-Thaqafa Al-Jadida, cultural monthly, issue no.141, June, Cairo: General Organisation for Cultural Palaces

Al-Thaqafa Al-JadidaThis latest issue of this prestigious magazine has a triple focus. Under the heading of "the discourse of terrorism," Gaber Asfour writes on the extremist mentality, while Talaat Radwan writes on creative endeavour in the light of repressive religious conceptions of what can, and what cannot, be allowed, Mahmoud Kassab discussing extremist readings of texts and Abdel-Rahman Abou Ouf writing on extremist fundamentalist discourse. In response to the question of whether ours is the "age of the novel or the age of declaring novels to be acts of apostasy," a number of critics offer reviews of recently published novels, including Ibrahim Aslan's Asafir Al-Nil (Nile Birds). The last focus of this issue is a rich and varied tribute to the recently deceased critic and writer Abdel-Rahman Shalash, to which a large number of fellow journeymen have contributed.

Al-Osour Al-Jadida , monthly magazine, issue no.10, June 2000, Cairo: Al-Osour Al-Jadida for Publication and Distribution

Al-Osour Al-JadidaThe latest edition of this distinctive cultural monthly contains a multitude of perspectives on the usual -- rather limited -- range of issues with which the magazine concerns itself. Here Syria's foremost poet Adonis (Ali Ahmed Said) writes on recent attempts to undermine the Arab writer's freedom of expression; without this, he says, what he calls "the Arabs' third death" would come about. Abdel-Hadi Abdel-Rahman, Amgad Nasser and Fathi Abdallah write on questions of identity, dealing with issues such as language, culture and history, while Zakareya El-Rifa'i writes on Sheikh Hussein El-Marsafi, one of the earliest practitioners of literary criticism as this is now understood. The magazine also includes three articles on cinema, a chapter from Egyptian writer Edwar El-Kharrat's new novel and features on Arabs, Islam and the implications of living in the 21st century from a national-cultural vantage point.

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