The longlist for the 2013 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) is set to be announced on December 6. One might well expect the judges to have put their finger on Mohammed al-Rabie’s عام التنين .
Al-Rabie’s debut novel, كوكب عنبر (Amber Planet), won the 2011 Sawiris Prize (Youth Category), and that novel — although not listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction — earned him a spot in this year’s IPAF masterclass.
About The Year of the Dragon, al-Rabie told the Egypt Independent: “I didn’t intend to write a history. I was interested in seeing how the lives of some Egyptian characters are related to that of the head of the state.”
The novel explores the impact of the dense Mubarak-era bureaucracy on the lives of individuals.
QISASUKHRA has, with an excellent sense of timing, also just brought out an excerpt of Dragon. The excerpt begins:
Naeem opens the door himself. He’s the man of the house and no one opens the flat’s front door but him.
The man enters with great aplomb. Naeem’s son Waleed follows after. Waleed looks at the ground, shamming shyness and sadness, but after a few seconds this act is dropped completely: Waleed gazes groundward, thinking of nothing; his feigned sadness replaced by a genuine bewilderment. But the whole process shouldn’t take more than a few minutes and after that he must think what it is he will have to do.
The man sprawls expansively on the living room sofa, as though he is its sole occupant. Naeem sits next to him, gesturing in welcome. Naeem’s happy that he’s come, repeating phrases of welcome—wasn’t this Naeem’s idea in the first place?—while the man fidgets, wanting to get it over with.
The guest asks in whose name the certificate is to be issued. Naeem raises his hand in the guest’s face, indicates that the whole business is about him. The guest takes a single sheet of paper from his pocket. He begins to write. Seconds later he is done. He re-reads it, checks what he’s written, then asks Naeem his name. Waleed answers, giving his father’s full four-part name: Naeem Abdel Naeem Ahmad Abu Sabaa. He holds his father’s identity card and hands it to the guest. The guest checks the name then leaves it on the table. The guest transcribes Naeem’s name onto the sheet in a clear hand then signs. He raises the paper in Naeem’s direction and asks for his approval.
Everything’s ready now, the doctor says. He can complete the process with total confidence and peace of mind.
Calmly, Naeem reads the sheet of paper. He knows exactly what’s on it. No matter how unfamiliar the phrases written there, they all mean the same thing in the end. His son sits beside him and his daughters follow proceedings through a chink in the bedroom door. His wife’s within, seated on the bed. She’s instructed the six girls to give her the signal when the guest takes Naeem’s money. She stays in bed, planning for what will happen in a few moments time. She has no opinion about what’s taking place. Atyat has given up caring about anything and there’s no longer anything to prevent Naeem doing as he pleases. At last, she will be delivered from her cares at last and so shall Naeem; at last, the boy will shut up; the girls, all of them, will be on the best of footings. She is waiting for a signal from the girls, still waiting. Keep reading on QISASUKHRA.