Egyptian writer Muhammad Aladdin is the author of five novels and three short-story collections. In 2011, Akhbar al-Adab chose him as one of the most important Egyptian writers in the new millennium, and, in the same year, The Millions called him one of the ‘’Six Egyptian writers you don’t know but you should.” He talks about his fifth novel, which is just out, A Well-trained Stray:
Muhammad Aladdin: We will have a book signing starting at 4 p.m. on Saturday, February 1, in Al A’in partition in the Cairo International Book Fair.
AL: What can you tell us about the novel beyond the online synopsis (young man writing stories online, issues with a girl, absurdity of the times)? What do you think is the most interesting aspect of the book? Character, humor, structure…?
MA: Well, I guess all of what you said, mixed with a simpler yet sarcastic language, and for the first time I use Egyptian slang in the dialogue, which I really believe fits the story and flows with it. I have to say, too, of that book, it’s the characters I personally love the most, and I think they are something you’d remember after reading.
AL: Where did the idea come from? How did it coalesce? In what way do (and don’t) contemporary events intrude on the novel? Have any of the events since Jan 2011 changed how you write?
MA: I had an idea about writing about porno, and how we interact with it as a generation. That was around 2007 I guess, about a guy who has nothing to do but write erotic stories online. In the beginning, I had it in my mind that he would do it as a hobby, then five years later, I ran into an acquaintance, and he actually writes it professionally. I was telling him the idea, and he said “I do this for living!”
I had an idea about writing about porno, and how we interact with it as a generation. That was around 2007 I guess, about a guy who has nothing to do but write erotic stories online. In the beginning, I had it in my mind that he would do it as a hobby, then five years later, I ran into an acquaintance, and he actually writes it professionally. I was telling him the idea, and he said “I do this for living!”
Another two years passed, then I contacted him again for some data about how he did it, and for sure I told him I’d use it.
About contemporary events, I wanted it to stay away from things political; there’s only one scene in a cabaret with a bellydancer dancing to Tslam El Ayady. As on the social level, for sure one good leap the drama got was from elements of street fights we can see every day.
AL: How was A Well-trained Stray different to write from The Gospel According to Adam, The Idol, your other previous works?
MA: I guess A Well-trained Stray has more of a “realistic” kick, the way it can be somehow a part of dirty realism. It has simpler language and more obvious humour. It is like “The Season of Migration to Arkidea” (my latest long story), I guess both the story and the novel marking a new drive for me, putting in mind that I guess I use the right language level on each piece. For me, you can’t write A Well-trained Stray with The Gospel According to Adam language level, and vice versa.
AL: There’s a great tradition of writers writing about writers. What sort of sort of opportunities did it offer you — writing about a writer?
MA: I already was going to write about a writer — in such different way — in my unfinished novel The Clown Complex. I published the first chapter in my blog in 2009. But for A Well-trained Stray, it is such different way of being “a writer”; yes he dreams about writing “high literature” or “winning the Nobel,” but you never see him actually writing these, only erotic stories, and how he theorising about it, but it wasn’t the main focus for real, I was really drowned by the dramatic line of the novel.
AL: If we grant that novels don’t come out of nowhere, and instead build off the worlds of other novels, where are you building from?
Well I’d agree in theory, but I can’t really find any specific novel I build from. The most evident thing I can think of is that I have built on our lives in the 90s, and our nightmares in 2013.
MA: Well I’d agree in theory, but I can’t really find any specific novel I build from. The most evident thing I can think of is that I have built on our lives in the 90s, and our nightmares in 2013.
AL: Is there an excerpt online people can read?
MA: Yes, some was published in the Tahrir news paper, like two excerpts, and some on the Apollo site. but you can still see three chapters excerpt from my blog, here: http://alaaeldin.blogspot.com/2014/01/blog-post_29.html