Alaa el-Deeb on Writing

Egyptian novelist Alaa el-Deeb wrote a column called Assir Al-Kutub (Books’ Nectar) for some 40 years. Now 70, El-Deeb tells Al Ahram Weekly he does not feel he has accomplished enough. He is the author of Zahr Al-Laymoun (Lemon Flowers, 1978), which Al Ahram calls “one of the most remarkable novellas in the history of Arabic literature.”

I don’t believe it has been translated into English.

El-Deeb also worked with the “Egyptian Supreme Council on Culture” until 2002, when he left to work on his writing and translations.

According to the interview in Al Ahram:

“Creative writing has become very difficult,” he says. For seven years now he has been working on a novel titled Sayd Al-Mala’ika (Hunting Angels), in which he attempts a definition of the word “pragmatism”, “the basic building block of American civilisation, which is to blame for all the evil in the world”. It reduces success to reaching a goal irrespective of values of good, truth and beauty, “so much so that the worst you can be called in America is ‘loser'”. The novel is the story of a man who has three friends he loses one after the other, because he insists on holding onto values and ideologies that have disintegrated and collapsed.

Suddenly El-Deeb stops: “I’ll tell you a story. A few years ago a Chinese critic went to visit my [octogenarian] friend the sculptor Adam Henein and said to him, ‘Your sculptures are marvelous.’ Henein said, ‘But I grew very very tired to achieve this level.’ The Chinese man said, ‘The hardest part of sculpture are the first 70 years.’ I say, ‘The hardest part of writing are the first 70 years.'”