Towering Egyptian Novelist and Cultural Critic, Gamal al-Ghitani, Dies at Age 70

Acclaimed Egyptian novelist and journalist Gamal al-Ghitani has died in a Cairo military hospital, aged 70:

ghitaniHe had been in a coma in al-Galaa Military Hospital for two months after being admitted with respiratory problems. He reportedly suffered a heart attack in August and was deprived of oxygen.

According to Al Ghitani’s wife, Magda al-Guindi, he died this morning. Egyptian state media reported that Al Ghitani’s funeral was to be held at Cairo’s Sayyida Nafisa mosque later in the day.

Al-Ghitani is one of Egypt’s most celebrated twentieth-century novelists, author of the widely influential Zayni Barakat, as well as founder and first chief editor of one of Arabic’s leading literary newspapers, Akhbar Al-Adab.

Recently, Egyptian authorities announced that they were naming a street in the Gamaliyya neighborhood — where he grew up — for the august author. The street will have its name changed from “Dabbabya” to “Gamal al-Ghitani.” It connects two key streets in Islamic Cairo: El-Moez and Gamaliyya.

The widely respected novelist was this year’s winner of the Nile Award, Egypt’s largest state-funded literary prize. Over his lifetime, he produced several short-story collections and more than a dozen novels, most prominently 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. It also has exerted a global influence, notably over acclaimed Indian writer Amitav Ghosh.

Al-Ghitani’s complete works were released late last year.

Al-Ghitani 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 was apprenticed as a child to a carpetmaker, 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)

Profiles:

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.

Video:

An interview on Ahram Online: According to AO, “This interview with late novelist Gamal El-Ghitani was published on 11 Sep 2012, where he expressed fears of Muslim Brotherhood, spoke of Akhbar Al-Adab, the literary journal he founded and how he views his career.”



Categories: Egypt

9 replies

  1. Oh how sad. So thankful I had the opportunity to meet him. RIP.

  2. Thank you for this Marcia.

  3. Thank you for the article. So, he was born in Sohaq, not in Islamic Cairo, so Gammaliyya district and the street to be named after him exist there, too?

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