International Prize for Arabic Fiction Longlist Profiles: ‘Embrace at the Brooklyn Bridge’

Embrace at the Brooklyn Bridge, a novel by former Egyptian diplomat (and current novelist-professor-commentator) Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, is the second of Fishere’s novels to be longlisted for the prize popularly known as the “Arabic Booker.”

The first was Intensive Care (2009 longlist), a novel that begins with a terrorist bombing. In IC, four characters—a security officer, a journalist, an Islamist lawyer and a Coptic human rights advocate—are trapped in the post-bombing rubble at the Egyptian consulate in Sudan. Each tells his (or her) narrative.

Terrorism and violent resistance have been core themes in Fishere’s novels. This year’s novel, Embrace at the Brooklyn Bridge, doesn’t foreground terrorist violence, but it is a nonetheless a novel of conflicts: of identity, generations, religions, cultures. It begins with the planning of young Salma’s birthday party by her wonderfully crabbed retired-professor grandfather. I haven’t finished the novel (!), but it apparently ends with Salma getting lost and attacked on her way back to Brooklyn.

According to the IPAF summary:

Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge is a novel about alienation in its various forms and senses: the hero who doesn’t belong; his second wife, torn between professional ambition and a desperation to give her husband the impression she belongs in his world; his son, with whom he has limited communication; his granddaughter, uncertain where she belongs, and his Egyptian friend, who discovers that neither his children nor his Cuban-American-Lebanese wife belong to his world. All these characters are linked by their relationship with the protagonist, who draws them together by inviting them to his granddaughter’s birthday party, at which he intends to convey some sad news.

The IPAF site also interviews Fishere about the novel, asking about Fishere’s writing process and the novel’s reception. On the novel’s reception, Fishere said:

Some have received it as an expression of the failure of the encounter between East and West and a book about the negatives of the West. Some have seen it as transcending the duality of East and West and an attempt to deconstruct these categories. Others have compared it to my first four novels and tried to see to what extent it is part of “a complete narrative project” and so on. There have been many readings. But generally I am pleased with its reception by readers and critics. It was printed in the midst of a revolution of which Egypt has never seen the like in its recent history. So it was doubtful whether there would be much interest from readers in a novel at a time like this. But in its first few months it had a positive reception. In August I listened to critical discussions about it in the “Zeitun Workshop” and I was pleased by the depth of the discussion. There is another one planned the day after tomorrow. Other bookshops asked for more seminars but I asked for them to be postponed. There are a number of critical articles about the novel in the Egyptian and Arabic press, a positive thing given the state of Arabic criticism. But what makes me happiest are the comments left by readers in Internet reading clubs.

He adds: “My great dream is to become a full-time writer, so that I can exhume all these shadowy ghosts from my soul and imprison them in books. ”

Reviews & critical commentary

Ahram Online (English)

Mary Mourad writes: Not all the stories and characters are equally developed. The grandfather is by far the most detailed character and his story could very well stand as a book by itself. The love story ending over the Brooklyn bridge, though one might expect it to be a central scene, doesn’t quite get there, with the rough portrayals of the characters leaving more to be guessed than known, and leading to various possible conclusions. One that comes to mind is that the conflict of cultures and the deep roots one carries around are not so easily overcome, even by love.

Al Masry Al Youm (English)

Fayrouz Karawya writes: 

The pleasant surprise in novels of that sort is that most of Fishere’s characters defy expectations.

Middle East Online (Arabic)

Youm7 (Arabic)

GoodReads page (with a review from our friend @Lastoadri)

More about Fishere:

Official website

Twitter handle @EzzedineCF

Facebook page

Longlist profiles:

Fadi Azzam’s Sarmada

Habib Selmi’s The Women’s Orchards

Hawra al-Nadawi’s ‘Under the Copenhagen Sky’