Yesterday’s Guardian carried an extraordinarily upbeat portrait of Cairo’s book world from Cairo-based Jack Shenker.
And Author Hamdi abu Golayyel (of The Laborer, or, as it’s titled in English A Dog with No Tail) had the most extraordinarily upbeat quote. “Today,” he said, “innovative writing is wanted by the people.”
As in the “Egyptian fiction bored of big issues” piece penned by Hamza Hendawi six weeks ago, Shenker focuses on younger writers Hamdi Abu Golayyel and Ahmed Alaidy (of Being Abbas el Abd). Shenker gives credit to publishing house Dar Merit for cultivating these writers.
Indeed, Dar Merit has offered more freedom to writers. The excellent, Arabic Booker-shortlisted Mohamed Mansi Qandil said, in The National:
There are many constraints on the freedom of the writer. My Moon Over Samarkand was mutilated by the editor of Dar al Helal, who omitted more than one third of it for political reasons. Later on, I had Dar Merit publish it in full.
But Shenker is not just talking about a better, freer publishing house; he’s talking about “Egypt’s nascent literary revolution.” He pinpoints the revolutionary aspect as, in the words of AUC literary professor Samia Mehrez, the literary “periphery” imposing themelseves on Egypt’s literary map.
Yes, there are more working class/underclass authors making their way. And it’s great, and perhaps this will lead to a reading revolution: I would love nothing better. But, more realistically, the piece ends by stating the challenges to this revolution: “the average Egyptian reads a quarter of a page of a novel each year.”
I’m not sure where this statistic comes from, but it’s pretty humbling.
There is no culture of recreational reading in Egypt. We need bookstores, libraries and families to offer storytimes in Arabic and English for children. The concept that books can actually be fun is foreign to most of the children here who have to slog through poorly written schoolbooks. We’ve seen children light up when they get a story read to them and then they try to read it themselves.
Yes, I was talking about this last night with Seif Salmawy, BQFP’s new managing director. And they are working on more engaging children’s and YA lit in Arabic.
My six-year-old has so many wonderful texts in English to read, and it’s been a struggle to find him fun books in Arabic. I think Diwan does story times…and maybe Book Spot…but that’s for a pretty narrow clientele. I wonder what it would take to talk a public library into reading time.
I did see story time at the Korba Peace Festival done really well last year. The kids were very enthusiastic, and I think it sold books, as well. So maybe there is movement in this direction…
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