Sonallah Ibrahim Takes the Proust Questionnaire

Ursula Lindsay has a lovely interview with Sonallah Ibrahim in The National, on the occasion of his novel التلصص (Stealth) appearing in English.

As someone who was only allowed 570 words to write about this amazing book, I’m quite jealous.

Lindsay notes, on her post about the interview/review on The Arabist, that Ibrahim had been thinking about Stealth for quite some time:

It was while in prison that Ibrahim self-published his first book. Financed by his cigarette allowance, the hand-written volume had a cardboard cover of flattened food boxes, chapter titles in red ink made from mercurochrome, and a spine held together by bread paste. It included the introduction to a novel, Khalil Bey, the never-finished forerunner of what would become Stealth. After his release, Ibrahim wrote novels that were published in more traditional, less painstaking ways. But the subject of his childhood haunted him. All along, he says, “I was thinking of it, of how to deal with it.”

And, from her piece in The National:

“What really decided the matter is that I reached the age of my father, at that time,” says Ibrahim, who is 73. “So I was able to understand him, what kind of motives, what kind of feelings [he had].”

You can read the rest of “Sonallah Ibrahim: closure by Stealth” on The National. But you can only read Ibrahim’s full answers to the Proust questionnaire on The Arabist.

You will see fairly quickly that Ibrahim (like the great Yusuf Idris before him) is a little female-obsessed. My favorite answers:

Where would you like to live? Here. I hate Cairo but when I tried to live in other places it just didn’t work.

Who are your favourite heroes in real life? I don’t believe in heroes.

What is your chief characteristic? Being very fond of women. And persistence. When I start something–whether it’s washing the dishes or writing a novel–I  have to finish it.

Ibrahim’s other books, and predictions:

Lindsay notes that, outside of Stealth, only three of Ibrahim’s novels have been translated into English: The Smell of It, The Committee, and Zaat. And if you can find a copy of The Smell of It, I’ll be quite surprised. However, I am hopeful that we will soon also see translations of Honor and Beirut, Beirut.

And (here’s a prediction): I believe Stealth will make some of those “best foreign fiction” / “best translated fiction” lists next year. And—why not—there may well be a surge of interest in Ibrahim and his work in the English-reading world.