The Zafarani Files. By Gamal el-Ghitani, translated by Farouk Abdel Wahab. American University in Cairo Press: Cairo, 2009. 344 pages.
But in Zafarani, it’s not vision that disappears, but the virility of one’s men. It’s less clear how women are affected; in any case, the book’s women show an astounding lack of creativity in addressing the problem.
TZF, which appeared in Arabic in 1976 and only now in English, depicts a large number of people from Zafarani alley—the first place to suffer the potency crisis—and is salted with heavy doses of Egyptian humor. We get good close-ups on the failed loves of a few characters: particularly Atif the college graduate and Hamdi the journalist. The book tends to be more serious with the woes of professional-class characters and sillier with the working-class characters, such as Ali the Ironer, who repeatedly looks to India for a solution, and Tahun the train engineer, who wants to solve everything with a network of tunnels beneath the city.
The book is dark and comic, but not darkly comic, as tragedy and jokes co-exist without too much mixing. A social critique—ah, what nonsense we can get used to!—but not heavy on the message. If the book were a little bit more tightly knit, it could be really wonderful.
A great final line:
Awards? Longlisted for Best Translated Book Award.
El-Ghitani also has won the Egyptian National Prize for Literature and other awards.
Reviews? Three Percent.