Acclaimed Novelist Gamal al-Ghitani in Critical Condition

According to multiple news reports, Egyptian novelist Gamal al-Ghitani, best-known for his acclaimed Zayni Barakat, slipped into a deep coma a week ago and remains in critical condition:

ghitaniAl-Ghitani reportedly suffered a heart attack a week ago and was deprived of oxygen, which led to significant brain damage, according to reports. He is at al-Galaa Military Hospital on life support.

The author, who Ahram Online is calling “Egypt’s most notable writer,” has written mwas the winner of this year’s Nile Award, the country’s largest state-funded literary prize. He is known for several short-story collections and more than a dozen novels, most prominently for the classic Zayni Barakatwhich was translated by the late Farouk Abdel Wahab, and named one of the Arab Writers Union’s “Top 105” of the 20th century.

His complete works were released late last year.

In addition to his work as an author, al-Ghitani was also founder and director of the influential literary newspaper Akhbar al-Adab. He launched it in 1993 and remained the editor-in-chief until 2011. He was also the University of Chicago’s fall 2013 Mellon Islamic Studies Initiative visiting “professor of practice.”

Al-Ghitani worked hard to reach this point.

He was born in Sohag, in upper Egypt, in 1945. According to Arab World Books, he wrote his first story in 1959 at the age of 14. He’d been apprenticed as a child with a carpet maker, and later worked in one of the Khan el-Khalili factories, but in 1969 he found work at the news desk of the daily paper Akhbar el-Youm. He worked as a war correspondent before settling into a more literary niche.

Critic Samia Mehrez has called al-Ghitani “the silent ironist par excellence.” Edward Said, according to Ahram Weekly, once said that, “The finest, leanest, most steely Arabic prose that I have either read or heard is produced by novelists (not critics) like Elias Khoury and Gamal El-Ghitani. … Each of whose prose is a razor-sharp Aristotelian instrument the elegance of which resembles Empson’s or Newman’s.”

Several of al-Ghitani’s works are in English translation: Zayni Barakat (trans. Farouk Abdel Wahab,), The Zafarani Files (also trans. Abdel Wahab,), The Mahfouz Dialogs (trans. Humphrey Davies), Pyramid Texts (also trans. Davies), and The Book of Epiphanies (trans. Abdel Wahab,), among others.

The Zafarani Files was longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award in 2010.” His novel Le Livre des Illuminations (1990), or Kitab al-Tajalliyat, was awarded the Laure Bataillon Prize in 2005 for the best work of fiction translated into French that year. In 2006, he received the Italian Premio Grinzane Cavour for his collection of stories Schegge di fuoco.

Al-Ghitani also won the French Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1987, as well as several other awards.

Read online:

“Naguib Mahfouz’s Childhood,” from The Mahfouz Dialogs (trans. Humphrey Davies), 2007.

“Annihilation,” from Pyramid Texts (trans. Humphrey Davies)

“The Crop” (trans. Mohammed Shaheen)

“Mystery Woman” (trans. Paul Starkey)


Gamal El-Ghitani: A scent of history

Open letters:

Al-Qahira has published three open letters from al-Ghitani’s wife, the author Magda al-Guindy.