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Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’

Flaubert’s Past Lives

December 12, 2014 | by

Flaubert 1869)

A detail from an 1869 caricature of Flaubert.

From a letter Gustave Flaubert wrote to George Sand in October 1866:

I don’t experience, as you do, this feeling of a life which is beginning, the stupefaction of a newly commenced existence. It seems to me, on the contrary, that I have always lived! And I possess memories which go back to the Pharaohs. I see myself very clearly at different ages of history, practicing different professions and in many sorts of fortune. My present personality is the result of my lost personalities. I have been a boatman on the Nile, a leno in Rome at the time of the Punic wars, then a Greek rhetorician in Subura where I was devoured by insects. I died during the Crusade from having eaten too many grapes on the Syrian shores, I have been a pirate, monk, mountebank and coachman. Perhaps also even emperor of the East?

Many things would be explained if we could know our real genealogy. For, since the elements which make a man are limited, should not the same combinations reproduce themselves? Thus heredity is a just principle which has been badly applied …

Oh! You think that because I pass my life trying to make harmonious phrases, in avoiding assonances, that I too have not my little judgments on the things of this world? Alas! Yes! and moreover I shall burst, enraged at not expressing them.

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Tomorrow: Robyn Creswell at NYU

September 8, 2014 | by

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Image via Bidoun

Tuesday evening at seven, join us at NYU’s Abu Dhabi Institute (19 Washington Square North) where our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, will appear on a panel called “The Authoritarian Turn: On The State of the Egyptian Intelligentsia.” The panel, sponsored by New Directions and Bidoun, will

bring together a distinguished group of writers and scholars to reflect upon the predicament of the Egyptian intellectual in the year since President Mohamed Morsi’s dramatic fall. From Ibrahim himself to the bestselling author Alaa Al Aswany, countless writers and artists–many of them of historically contrarian bent–have expressed their support for a military-backed government whose abuses and excesses have on occasion surpassed those of the Mubarak era. How to begin to understand the role of the public intellectual in such times?

Robyn appears alongside Khaled Fahmy (American University in Cairo) and Mona El Ghobashy (an independent scholar); Negar Azimi moderates.

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The Case of the Arabic Noirs

August 20, 2014 | by

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Pocket Novels: The Exile, J. Kessel, 1940. “A Novel of Human Untruths, about a Russian woman and her princesses, in exile, from the pen of the great French writer J. Kissel,” presumably the French novelist and journalist Joseph Kessel (1898-1979).

Pocket Novels: The Corpse, Georges Simenon, 1946. “A quirky police tale,” according to the inside. Many popular fiction books were messily translated and repackaged, without bothering to credit the original text, author, or publisher. The artist of this cover, for instance, is not credited.

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Pocket Novels: Secret of Radium, Albert Dewar Nashton, 1943. “A police story of fantastic events written by the Briton, Albert Dewar Nashton.”

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Charmer of Women, Agatha Christie, 1979 pocket book edition.

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Mystery of a Woman, Agatha Christie, sold for thirty piasters, though undated.

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Crime in Iraq, Agatha Christie, undated. (Arabic version of Murder in Mesopotamia, with a different title). Christie’s husband, an archaeologist, took her on digs across the Middle East and the scenes frequently appear in her prose.

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Floozy from Paris, R. Leonard (French), artist: Gasoor. From the back cover: “In this book: The life of a French prostitute…” Undated; set in 1942.

8.Sherlock

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Devilish Dog, undated. A translation of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

9.Bond

Dr. No: The Adventures of James Bond, drawings by Shawky Matooly, 1989. Ian Fleming gets no acknowledgment in this pocket edition for young adults, complete with simple line drawings of action scenes.

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The Fugitive: Lust for Murder, Dr. Richard Campbell, undated.

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Malicious Intent, Rashad Mohamed El-Essawy, undated. “Arabic stories from a new genre,” reads the inside cover.

12.Shackles

The Shackles of Sin, Georges Simenon, 1959. The backcover says the story is from the book, Four Days in a Lifetime, originally published in English in 1953.

13.Charade

Charade, Peter Stone, #346 in imprint/series “Novels of the World,” undated.

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Policeman’s Dread, John Creasey, “Novels of the World” #399, undated. Creasey (1908-1973) wrote some six hundred books under twenty-eight different noms de plume; at one stage he wrote thirty to forty books annually. There were hundreds of books from the “Novels of the World” series and myriad copies are gathering dust in Cairo archives and bookstands.

15.Impossible Man

The Impossible Man: The Black River, Nabeel Farouk, undated, likely from the eighties. Inside cover reads: “Police stories for youths, replete with sensational events.”

Cairo: the metal detector beeps. The security man wears a crisp white uniform. He nods and leans back in his chair. The lobby’s red oriental carpet, so worn it’s barely red, leads upstairs to the hotel tavern. Enter the glass doors, where a cat in a smart bow tie and vest reaches for a lonely bottle behind the bar. He takes his time; he’s been polishing glasses at the Windsor Hotel for thirty-eight years. Out the window, a motorcycle speeds through the dark alley. In 1893, this joint was ritzy—home to the royal baths, steps from the original Cairo Opera House. Tonight it’s dingy enough that Philip Marlowe might come here to tip a few back after clobbering some hoods. A fine joint in which to pore over pulp from the secondhand book market down the street.

It’s tempting to ponder the relevance of crime novels in contemporary Egypt. The 2011 revolution began on National Police Day as a revolt against the fuzz. When President Hosni Mubarak breezed off eighteen days later, the police dusted, too, leaving behind a Wild West. Gun sales skyrocketed, matched by holdups and carjackings. In the following two years, thugs ran Cairo’s streets. Ever since General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi ousted former President Mohammed Morsi last summer, the coppers have been back in full force. White uniformed police operate checkpoints littered throughout the capital like discarded Coke cans. Cabbies are so scared that they’ve started wearing seat belts. And now, as authorities attempt to restore law and order, the crime genre is making a comeback. Read More »

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An Exhilarating Head Trip

June 25, 2014 | by

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P. H. Newby; date unknown. Photo via phnewby.net

The old girl kept writing and complaining about the police. It was enough to start Townrow on a sequence of dreams. Night after night he floated in the sunset-flushed, marine city. He could smell the salt and the jasmine. He dreamed that Mrs Khoury, Mr Khoury and he were all sailing out of the harbor in a boat that slowly filled with water. He dreamed he was in a hot, dark room with a lot of men who argued and shouted. It must have been in the Greek Sailing Club because when a door opened there were oars and polished skiffs; and opposite, high over Simon Artz’s, of the other side of the Canal, was Johnnie Walker with his cane and his top hat setting off for Suez. Or was it the Med.?

So begins P. H. Newby’s Something to Answer For, the 1969 novel that won the first-ever Booker Prize. “The Booker was not, as it is now, a high media event,” Anthony Thwaite wrote in an obituary for Newby in 1997. “I remember the then–sales director of Faber & Faber, the book’s publisher, telling me that the prize probably resulted in no more than about four hundred extra copies.”

That’s a shame, because Newby, who was born today in 1918, deserved, and deserves, more attention. Graham Greene called him “a fine writer who has never had the full recognition that he deserves,” and that’s as true now as it was in Newby’s lifetime. Very few of his twenty novels are still in print; in the whole of The Paris Review’s archive, his name comes up only once, in Truman Capote’s 1957 Art of Fiction interview: “Well, who are some of the younger writers who seem to know that style exists? P. H. Newby, Françoise Sagan, somewhat.”

In additional to his success as a novelist, Newby enjoyed a long career as a broadcast administrator—he rose through the ranks to become the managing director of BBC Radio. He lived in Cairo from 1942 until 1946: it was “like living in a human laboratory, in which there were no inhibitions,” Thwaite writes, and it informed a number of his novels, Something to Answer For among them. Read More »

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Shakedown: Cossery in Egypt

March 6, 2013 | by

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Egypt’s political efflorescence has inspired a surge in Western readership for its novelists, and few have benefitted more than Albert Cossery. An expatriate who lived in the same Saint-Germain-des-Prés hotel room for the last sixty years of his life, Cossery’s eight novels celebrate a highly attuned lethargy, the slow-burning ire of pranksters and misfits. But with countless Egyptian activists jailed, tortured, and killed since 2011 by the entrenched organs of the state they sought to overthrow, one might dismiss the renewed interest in his works as well-meaning, if solipsistic. It doesn’t help that the man, who died in 2008, seemed to have written off the revolutionary enterprise altogether: “There’s nothing worse than a reformer. They’re all careerists.” But this was before last week, when the Harlem shake fully arrived in Cairo, and four guys arrested in their underwear prompted the youthful vanguard’s latest tack: the formation of a “Satiric Revolutionary Struggle,” which, as its first action, shut down the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood with a four-hundred-strong throng of syncopated dancing.

The reaction to the Harlem-shaking of the Brotherhood’s headquarters was more than a convenient vindication of Cosserian thought—it reminded us of a truth he gently but persistently nudged along his whole life: in a world of unsmiling authority and unswerving ambition, the prank is the apotheosis of political action, the only point of escape. Read More »

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What We’re Loving: High Fashion, Arabian Nights, and Field Mice

July 20, 2012 | by

Image via Synchrodogs

The genre of the 1,002nd night is one few storytellers can resist. Poe wrote one, so did R. L. Stevenson, Jospeh Roth, and Naghuib Mahfouz. Some of these sequels are orientalist camp; the better ones concentrate on The Nights’ true drama: that of a woman talking to save her life. I’ve been reading an advanced copy of Tales of a Severed Head, a collection of poems by the Moroccan poet Rachida Madani. Her Scheherazade, a voice that Madina breaks into many different voices, angrily laments the history of modern Morocco and particularly the fate of its leftist intellectuals. It is as much a critique of the legend as a continuation of it. Madina’s poet is even willing, at times, to stop talking:

She is silent so she can breathe
in the empty cannons
lift and weigh the sacks of gunpowder
and take aim.

Marilyn Hacker’s translation from French is scrupulous and lively. —Robyn Creswell

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