الطابور، لبسمة عبد العزيز / The Queue by Basma Abdel-Aziz

For April we’re switching things up again and reading a book available only in Arabic: الطابور، لبسمة عبد العزيز (The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz).

TaboorA brief summary of the book from Ahram Online:

“The novel by Abdel-Aziz mixes fantasy and realism in a weave that uses sarcasm and lightness, while describing Egyptians queuing in an extended unending queue for an obscure ‘gate’ that gives strict orders. However, the ‘gate’ never opens, symbolising an ‘authority’ that is hidden and untouchable, but has enormous power over people.

The first novel by psychiatrist, writer and visual artist, Basma Abdel-Aziz, is among the first books to be printed by the Cairo office of the Arab publishing house, Dar al-Tanweer.”

You can read Elisabeth Jaquette’s review of the novel in Mada Masr, or a summary (in Arabic) of a discussion about the book held at the Supreme Council of Culture here.

UPDATE: Basma Abdel Aziz will be joining our discussion; you can read more about her in this interview with Al-Akhbar.

We’ll meet to discuss on Sunday, April 21th 2013.

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مترو، لمجدي الشافعي / Metro by Magdy El Shafee

For March we’re switching things up and reading a graphic novel: مترو، لمجدي الشافعي / Metro by Magdy el-Shafee, translated by Chip Rossetti.

A brief summary of the book from Goodreads:

metro“A brilliant portrait of a bank robbery and two friends’ breakneck escape through an edgy, pulsing Cairo on the brink of explosion. When Shehab runs afoul of a loan shark, all avenues of salvation in Mubarak’s corrupt, oppressive Egypt are closed to him but one: robbing a bank. Things go wrong: In their blow against their crumbling society, Shihab and his friend Mustafa happen on evidence of vice that points to the upper reaches of the regime. On a wild chase through Cairo’s metro system, Shehab and Mustafa turn to family and friends for refuge, which is offered only by Dina, a muckraking journalist who, for Shehab, will take the greatest of risks. In art as alive and immediate as Cairo itself, Magdy El Shafee has delivered an arresting and prescient portrait of a crumbling society and Egypt’s coming eruption. A powerful story of comrades on the lam and an impossible love, Metro also sounds the cry for a better, freer future.”

metro1Metro is Egypt’s first graphic novel and a vivid portrait of poverty and corruption under Mubarak’s rule. When it was first published in January 2008, it was quickly banned on the ground of “offending public morals”: the police raided the Malameh publishing house, confiscated all copies of the book, and banned Malameh from printing further copies. Al-Shafee as well as his publisher, Mohammed al-Sharkawi, were charged under article 178 of the Egyptian penal code (which criminalizes the printing or distribution of publications that “infringe upon public decency”) and ultimately each fined 5,000 LE.

We’ve picked this book now because it has recently been republished in Arabic and made available in Egypt, for the first time in five years – more on its republication in Arabic on ArabLit. Additionally, here is a preview of the English edition, translated by Humphrey Davies, on Words Without Borders.

Magdy el-Shafee will be joining us for our discussion on Sunday, March 17th 2013.

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الحرب في بر مصر، يوسف القعيد‎ / War in the Land of Egypt by Yusuf al-Qa’id

warinthelandofegypt2For February we’re reading الحرب في بر مصر، يوسف القعيد‎ / War in the Land of Egypt by Egyptian author Yusuf al-Qa’id, which ranks at #4 on the Arab Writers Union’s list of the best 105 Arabic novels of the 20th century. It was translated by Lorne Kenny and Christopher Tingley.

A brief summary of the book from Goodreads:
“Egypt on the eve of the 1973 October war. A young man has been drafted into the army. His father, the village elder, persuades a poor night-watchman to send his own son as a stand-in. But the impersonation plan goes horribly wrong, with tragicomic results. Qa’id’s tale of the fiasco–steeped in irony and black humor–parodies outrageous corruption and ludicrous bureaucracy. A skillfully crafted mosaic of life in modern Egypt.”

warinthelandofegypt1The book was published in 1978 in Lebanon and banned in Egypt until 1985. It was also adapted as a film starring Omar Sharif in 1991: المواطن: مصري (An Egyptian Citizen). For more, here is a review by M. Lynx Qualey in Egypt Independent.

We’ll meet to discuss on Sunday, February 17th 2013.

*UPDATE: Thoughts from our discussion after the jump.

Continue reading

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الحفيدة الأمريكية، انعام كحه جي / The American Granddaughter by Inaam Kachachi

ag1In November we’re reading الحفيدة الأمريكية، انعام كحه جي / The American Granddaughter by Iraqi author Inaam Kachachi, which was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2009. It was translated by Nariman Youssef.

A brief summary of the book from IPAF:
The American Granddaughter depicts the American occupation of Iraq through the eyes of a young American-Iraqi woman, who returns to her country as an interpreter for the US Army. Through the narrator’s conflicting emotions, we see the tragedy of a country which, having battled to emerge from dictatorship, then finds itself under foreign occupation.”

ag2Here are a couple reviews (spoiler alert!) from Jadaliyya and Banipal, and some related thoughts on translation from M. Lynx Qualey.

We’ll meet to discuss on Sunday, January 20th 2013.

*UPDATE: Thoughts from our discussion after the jump.

Continue reading

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اللجنة، صنع الله إبراهيم / The Committee by Sonallah Ibrahim

In October we’re reading اللجنة، صنع الله إبراهيم / The Committee by Egyptian author Sonallah Ibrahim, translated by Mary St. Germain and Charlene Constable.

thecommitteeA brief summary of the book from AUC Press:
“Sonallah Ibrahim has been called the Egyptian Kafka. And no wonder: this wry tale revolves around its narrator’s attempts to petition successfully the elusive “Committee.” Consequences for his actions range from the absurd to the hideous. In Kafkaesque fashion—an intriguingly symbolic and minimalist style—Ibrahim offers an unbroken first-person narrative rendered in brief, crisp prose framed by a conspicuous absence of vivid imagery. Furthermore, the petitioner is a man without identity. The ideal antihero, he remains unnamed throughout the intricate plot, with a locale suggestive of 1970s Cairo. The Committee, first published in Arabic in 1981, sardonically pierces the inflammatory terrain between ordinary men, unbridled displays of power, and other broader concerns of the author’s native Egypt. The novel’s corrosive, shocking conclusion catapults satiric surrealism into a new realm.”

اللجنةHere is an interview with Sonallah Ibrahim from Banipal 43, and if you can get your hands on a paper copy of Banipal 13, take a look at Susannah Tarbush’s review of The Committee and Zaat.

We’ll meet to discuss on Saturday, November 3rd 2012.

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عزازيل، يوسف زيدان / Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan

For September we’re reading عزازيل، يوسف زيدان / Azazeel by Egyptian author Youssef Ziedan, which won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2009. It was translated  by Jonathan Wright.

azazeel1A brief summary of the book from IPAF:
“Set in the fifth century AD in Upper Egypt, Alexandria and northern Syria, Azazel presents two parallel fights of the new religion (Christianity) and its believers on the one side and the old pagan religions and their believers on the other side. The other parallel fight takes place inside the monk Hiba whose life is a permanent fight between the two elements of his personality: the heavenly and the earthly elements, the pagan and the Christian. Zidan’s Azazel is far more complex than that of the religious mythologies: he tempts Hiba into doing evil things, only to prove through the monk’s inner discourse, that this evil is nothing but a human’s purest repressed wishes. The author has set tricky tasks for his two protagonists, Azazel and Hiba alike: Azazel’s tough challenge was to free a monk of his religious limits, and Hiba’s challenge was to handle a conflict between his human and divine halves.”

azazeel2Here is a review from The Guardian. If you can get your hands on a paper copy of Banipal 34, take a look at Abdo Wazen’s piece The Anger over Azazeel, or look at Margaret Obank’s review of Azazeel in Banipal 45.

We’ll meet to discuss on Saturday, September 22 2012.

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بريد بيروت، حنان الشيخ / Beirut Blues by Hanan el-Shaykh

bb1In June we’re reading بريد بيروت، حنان الشيخ / Beirut Blues by Lebanese author Hanan el-Shaykh, translated by Catherine Cobham.

A brief summary of the book from Random House:
“The daring fragmented structure of this epistolary novel mirrors the chaos surrounding the heroine, Asmahan, as she futilely writes letters to her loved ones, to her friends, to Beirut, and to the war itself—letters of lament that are never to be answered except with their own resounding echoes. In Beirut Blues, Hanan al-Shaykh evokes a Beirut that has been seen by few, and that will never be seen again.”

bb2If you can get your hands on a paper copy of Banipal 2, take a look at Anne Chambers’s review.

We’ll meet to discuss on Monday, June 20 2011.

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