(The Great) Tawfiq al-Hakim On Writing: Novels vs. Plays

I walked into our neighborhood bookstore (more of a stationery store with a few books) yesterday, and was pleased to find a nice assortment of somewhat-dusty fiction.

True, the rack by the door was full of self-help, but I also found Essam Youssef’s popular novel “based on a true story” 1/4 Gram, other recent fiction, and a rack stuffed with inexpensive classics by Taha Hussein and Tawfiq al-Hakim.

I wanted to pick up Tawfiq al-Hakim’s delightful play The Donkey Market, but, of course, it would take me until next year to read even this short play in Arabic. It’s still Arabic children’s books for me.

Anyhow, al-Hakim on writing (from his beautiful autobiographical fragment, The Prison of Life, excerpted in The Essential Tawfiq al-Hakim, AUC Press):

For all these peculiarities, my father possessed a quality that I regret I did not inherit, for it would have helped me a great deal, especially in the narrative arts. This was his inclination to dig deep into the minute details of anything in life, whether of immediate relevance to him or not.

I on the contrary can take things in only their broad outlines, their main significations and not their details. I am also inclined to rid myself of anything I can dispense with. I have never carried a watch. I have never tried to acquire any curio or objet d’art. I eat only what is strictly necessary. This is why drama suits me as a medium of expression, for—unlike the novel which concerns itself with details—its proper scope is concepts and essences.

ALSO: During a Google search for a free image of Al-Hakim, I came across a production late last year of one of al-Hakim’s plays, Fate of a Cockroach. Wonderful to see him being produced.

ALSO ALSO: You can read The Donkey Market in English in the collection edited by Denys Johnson-Davies, The Essential Tawfiq al-Hakim.