Egyptian writer Edwar El-Kharrat died today, December 1, after he slipped into a coma at a Cairo hospital yesterday:
El-Kharrat, a driving force in the development of the modern Egyptian novel, was admitted to the Anglo Hospital in Cairo on November 20, El-Kharrat’s son told Ahram Online, suffering from pneumonia. The state-run news agency reported that El-Kharrat’s condition “had briefly improved before deteriorating again, prompting his transfer to the hospital’s intensive care unit.”
He died this morning.
The funeral will be held at El-Dobara Church in Tahrir tomorrow morning and he will be buried in Alexandria, according to Ahram Online.
El-Kharrat, 89, was born in Alexandria, a city that figures in much of his work. The Alexandria of his boyhood appears in City of Saffron (trans. Frances Liardet), set in the 1930s, which tells the coming-of-age story of a young Coptic boy. Although it’s received relatively little attention in English, it was apparently chosen by Doris Lessing as a Book of the Year in 1990. El-Kharrat’s Girls of Alexandria is set in the 1930s and 1940s and, like City of Saffron, is also a semi-autobiographical work.
But El-Kharrat’s most celebrated work is Rama and the Dragon, translated by Ferial Ghazoul and John Verlenden. This book won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 1999 and was chosen by the Arab Writers Union as one of the “top 105” of the twentieth century and has long been considered one of El-Kharrat’s signature achievements.
In the words of Egyptian novelist Mohamed Abdelnaby: “Edwar al-Kharrat is a poet of the modern novel in Egypt and he didn’t receive the appreciation and the reading he really deserves. … I think he is a very important novelist and you can find his novel, Rama and the Dragon, in English, [in] a good translation by Dr. Ferial Ghazoul.”
El-Kharrat, also a translator and a critic, has won numerous literary awards, including the Egyptian State Prize for Fiction in 1973, the Franco-Arab Friendship Prize in France in 1991, the Al-Owais Award For Fiction in 1994/1995, the Cavafis Award Greek Studies in 1998, the Egyptian State Merit Award for Literature in 2000 and, in 2014, the Nile Prize for Literature, the Egyptian government’s highest literary honor.
Excerpt: From Rama and the Dragon
Banipal: An Interview with El-Kharrat