‘Why Not Use This Sense of Humor in an Artistic Work?’

Egyptian novelist Nael Eltoukhy, author of the grittily witty Women of Karantina, recently appeared at a launch event for the English translation of his novel:

EltoukhyAmong other things, Eltoukhy was asked why his book was described as something new on the Arabic literary scene. It’s new, he said, because humorous books — particularly the works called “sarcastic” or satiric — are seen as second-rate in the pantheon of Egyptian literature. But when writing the book, he thought, “why not use this sense of humor in an artistic work?”

Certainly there have been other literary works that have used humor — Eltoukhy noted works by Emile Habibi and Sonallah Ibrahim in particular. But generally humorous books are seen as a distinct genre.

“Many writers descibe the book as a sarcastic work, but I think not,” Eltoukhy said. “Its sense of humor is not sarcastic.” When he writes in a satiric mode, Eltoukhy said, “I have a target and shoot to it.” But when using a broader literary sense of humor, “I have the whole world as a target.”

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