I came across this video on YouTube, from twenty-one-year-old author Aliaa El-Nashar, who writes in English, and reads in English, but explains why she was suddenly struck by author Khairy Shalaby:
Admittedly, she doesn’t give any concrete details about why she likes about Shalaby. But the video, which mostly wins on sweet and candid, shows an interesting path to Shalaby’s fiction — El-Nashar fell in love with his prose while translating it for and sharing it with an Argentinian friend.
Adam Talib, who — like El-Nashar — has spent time translating Shalaby into English, has said:
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.
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.
Although El-Nashar said that most of her acquaintances — perhaps of her generation — don’t know Shalaby, translator Michael Cooperson said in an interview with AUC Press:
Every time I told Egyptian friends that I was working on the translation of Shalaby’s novel, they said that he was one of their favorite writers and it was about time he received more attention. And it’s not just the intellectuals who say so. Several years ago, I visited him to interview him about the book. On the way, the taxi driver was having trouble finding the address, and asked me who I was going to see. When I told him, he said, “Why didn’t you say you were going to see Ustaz Khairy!” and found the place quickly by asking people in the street.
Shalaby himself told Al Ahram Weekly: “My complete non-reliance on Western literature is my chief contribution to contemporary Arabic literature.”
The Al Ahram profile concluded, “He considers Yehia Haqqi his literary father, Youssef Idris his older brother and Abdel-Rahman El-Sharqawi, Saad Mekkawi, Naguib Mahfouz, and Ihsan Abdel-Quddous his relatives. Nevertheless, he insists that ‘if I am stranded on a desert island for the rest of my life, the Thousand and One Nights will be quite enough.'”
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
Al Ahram Weekly: The narrative eye
From The Lodging House.
“Fist Fight,” (page 288), also from The Lodging House
From Margaret Litvin: Khairy Shalaby R.I.P.
From Sayed Mahmoud at Ahram Online: Khairy Shalaby’s river of stories reaches the sea of departure