From Al Masry Al Youm:
Khaled al-Berry’s enjoyable and pioneering memoir, Life is More Beautiful than Paradise, translated by Humphrey Davies and published in 2009, is now set to be made into a feature-length film.
The film script will be written by Mohamed Rifai and directed by Magdi Ahmad Ali. As a director, Ahmad Ali is known for his attraction to literary works, like Ibrahim Aslan’s Nile Birds, and for his ability to address controversial topics in an unflinching manner, as in his Girls’ Secrets.”
Al-Berry’s memoir is a moving portrait of adolescence. The book is moving not because of the its topical subject matter — as a young man, al-Berry went to prison because of his affiliation with the banned Jama’a Islamiya — but because of how the narrator reflects on the ordinary details of growing up.
The autobiography opens in Asyut as al-Berry is entering his teens. School is cancelled because of security concerns, and many parents come to pick up their children in cars. But al-Berry’s father recently sold their rundown ’68 Opel, so al-Berry ends up walking home with some of the other boys.
One of them mentions the Jama’a Islamiya. Al-Berry parrots his father’s opinion: “’[Gamal] Abdel Nasser understood them and imprisoned them.’” But the other boy vehemently disagrees. He reproaches al-Berry for condemning those who he doesn’t know, and portrays the members of the Islamist group as heroes defying a corrupt regime. This boy has seen al-Berry shy from a fight, and promises to make him a gift of a bicycle chain.
“I spent the night dreaming of the bicycle chain,” al-Berry writes, “just the way I used to dream that I was Bruce Lee, after seeing a movie of his, or Muhammad Ali Clay, after seeing a movie about him.” Go on; keep reading.
Al-Berry also added, in response to my question about whether he’d thought this would be his first book made into a movie: “I would have thought of Oriental Dance – for me it’s an epic of the life of my generation. Yet, It might be more of a challenge, as it’s massive and the expands over almost 60 years.”
I might also add that, the first time I met Humphrey Davies, the book’s translator, he had complained that many of his Egyptian friends weren’t interested in reading al-Berry’s memoir because the “jihadist-to-regular-guy” story was already familiar. But even if that were so, what’s interesting about this memoir is not that it brings us into the world of the Jama’a Islamiya, but what it says about the (universal) nature of adolescence.