Egyptian Novelist Khairy Shalaby Dies at 73

Egyptian novelist Khairy Shalaby, whose work had just begun to gain attention in English, died this morning. He was 73.

According to news reports, Shalaby was not suffering from any illness, and continued to wake up and write daily.

Shalaby was born ono January 31, 1938 in the Nile Delta village of Shebas Amir, and had written some seventy books, including novels, plays, critical studies, and short-story collections. Three of his novels have been translated and published in English: The Naguib Mahfouz Medal-winning The Lodging House, The Time Travels of the Man Who Sold Pickles and Sweets and The Hashish Waiter.

The Lodging House was listed by the Arab Writers Union as one of the “top 105” books of the last century, and his Istasia was longlisted for last year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Several authors, including Miral al-Tahawy, protested when it didn’t make the shortlist.

Adam Talib, who translated The Hashish Waiter, said of Shalaby’s prose:

The most enjoyable—and the most difficult—thing about Khairy’s prose is the way he mixes language levels (registers) within a single sentence or paragraph. Khairy doesn’t go in for the prophetic or philosophical or pompous-sounding stuff…and he really seems to be having a lot of fun when he writes.

Talib added:

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Khairy doesn’t spend a lot of time looking up from the story. He doesn’t look over his shoulder like some writers and he doesn’t spend too much energy worrying about what ‘the critics’ will say. I haven’t asked him but I’m fairly certain he’s never spent a second thinking about how this might sound when it’s translated. …. In many ways, Arabic novels are still having a conversation with the culture at large—they’re very engaged—and it’s reflected in this style of novel. Khairy Shalaby is an important artist and also a very good critic, but he doesn’t go in for that sort of thing. Like Yusuf al-Qa’eed, Khairy tries to show that novels don’t have to be explicitly intellectual, or about intellectuals, to handle important political and social questions in a very sophisticated way.

Khairy is widely regarded as having written novels “of the Egyptian street.”


Q&A with Adam Talib, Translator of Khairy Shalaby’s ‘The Hashish Waiter’

Q&A with Michael Cooperson, Translator of Shalaby’s ‘Time Travels’

Review of ‘The Hashish Waiter’: Freedom and Escape in the Era of Camp David