Bahaa Taher, the Decline of Arabic, and Local Respect for Literature

Ali Abdel Mohsen has a delightful report on what must’ve been a pretty dreadful book event featuring acclaimed (Arabic Booker-winning) author Bahaa Taher and a pair of literary critics.

Says Mohsen:

Of course, the events of the evening unfolded to the usual medley of polyphonic phone warbling and stage-whispered side conversations, proving that an audience of 12 “intellectuals” can make just as much noise as a school field trip. Reporters sent to cover the event were roaming back and forth, experimenting freely with the room’s lights for the sake of their photography. Even employees of the cultural center displayed the same tactlessness, disrupting the proceedings with ridiculously loud high-heels and slamming doors.

The evening, which began with a two-hour talk mostly by the critics, ended with a brief Q&A session. The session sounds much like Q&As at a literary event anywhere in the world: some fans repeated one another’s (and their own) questions, others stood to give long-winded talks about their own life and projects.

According to Mohsen, there were at least two references to the decline of the Arabic language, to which Taher apparently replied, “I agree with you 100 percent.”

I was interested to see his reply to a question about literary agents in Egypt:

After briefly contemplating, the author replied, “I think they play an important role. I believe in them very strongly, but the problem is in this part of the world the vast majority of them are untrustworthy. There are no firm laws to regulate those types of transactions and agreements.”

“Egyptian authors are denied their rights both in Egypt and abroad.”

Mohsen also reviews Taher’s latest collection of short stories, I Did Not Know Peacocks Could Fly.

These are, Mohsen says, “six deceptively simple tales full of loss, mystery, and the occasional symbolic animal.” Taher’s prose is here, as elsewhere, clear and concise:

Perhaps the best thing about I Did Not Know Peacocks Could Fly is the ease with which it reads. Taher’s style is instantly accessible, incorporating familiar settings and characters into his intriguing and dreamlike narratives. As a result, the book flows like good conversation between old friends, complete with warmth, humor, and the occasional hint of regret.