Egyptian Fiction ‘Bored’ of Big Issues?

Such is the thesis of Hamza Hendawi, writing today for the Associated Press.

I’m not quite sure I agree with the lead—Hendawi quotes Hamdi Abu Golayyel, whose A Dog with No Tail (or The Laborer, in Arabic)—is actually full of big issues, if delivered via a intimate, workaday narrator.

“We [contemporary writers] are closer to everyday issues,” said Abu Golayyel, 42. “Our works have dropped dealing with the big issues and shaken off the burden of attempting to write prose for posterity.”

Perhaps Abu Golayyel is not writing prose for politics or posterity (and bully for him! we among the living need it more!), but his “everyday issues” are surely the big ones in contemporary Egypt. Indeed, when aren’t issues of gender, connection, labor, and family “big”?

Hendawi also touches on the 2010 novel Farewell to Heaven, by the Egyptian-German Hamed Abdel-Samad, which I have not read (nor heard anything about). And no discussion of 21st century Egyptian lit would be complete without at least a sideways glance at the 2003 novel Being Abbas el Abd by Ahmed Al-Aidy, a Chuck Palahniuk+Sonallah Ibrahim-inspired book that’s full of colloquialisms that Hamza calls “emoticon Arabic.”

Al-Aidy tells Hendawi:

“In today’s world, books compete with a cinema ticket or a pack of cigarettes for entertainment. If you don’t capture the reader from the first page, he is gone forever.”

More recently, Hendawi says, Lost Anger, a 2009 novel by Mazen Al-Aqaad, explores the disconnects between the worlds of online and offline Egypt. It’s a somewhat strange collection of reads: no mention of Mansoura Ez Eldin or Mohamed Mansi Qandil, Egyptians shortlisted for the Arabic Booker this year; no note of the Egyptians on the Beirut39 list; no word of the popular (and young!) Bilal Fadl or Khaled al-Khamissi.

In any case, Hind Wassef, co-founder of Diwan bookstores, had this delightful and heartening thing to say:

“It is a fiction market,” she said, “And we go out of our way to stock an excellent collection of fiction. It is what sells.”


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