Friday Films: ‘A Nightingale’s Prayer’

It is always a surprising shame that Taha Hussein’s (1889-1973) seminal A Nightingale’s Prayer (1934) isn’t available in English translation:

The film and novel are both significant twentieth century artistic productions: popular (and populist). The 1934 novel is narrated by the charming Amna, who’s from the Upper Egyptian village of Beni Warkan. She’s all at once jealous, bright, greedy, insightful, and human. It’s a novel with significant insights into class and gender in twentieth-century Egypt that’s also fun to read.

A.B. as-Safi has done a translation, which he writes about here, but it doesn’t seem to be in print.

The book was made into a film by Henry Bakarat and Youssef Gohar a quarter-century later, and, as a recent review in Mada Masr notes, the film “has minimal dialogue and depends…on the protagonist’s monologues and promises to the bird [nightingale]. … Yet Barakat and writer Youssef Gohar also created a poetic script that almost matches the novel’s genius.”

Both works are widely acclaimed: The film was chosen as one of the top 15 of the twentieth century by Egyptian film critics and the novel one of the top 100 by the Arab Writers Union.

Also watch last Friday’s film, Kit Kat, based on Ibrahim Aslan’s fantastic The Heron, trans. the also fantastic Elliott Colla.


  1. I’m very surprised to see it called the Nightingale’s Prayer and always thought of it as “The Call of the Curlew”, which is rather different. The karawan is in fact the Senegal Thick-knee, which is closely related to the stone curlew but has a very different call. They live on rooftops in urban areas and make their distinctive call at night. It is very rare to see one. I have only ever seen two, at dusk. I don’t know the text or the film but I doubt the bird is portrayed as praying, but I might be wrong. This is what it sounds like. Anyone who has lived in Cairo will recognise it instantly:

  2. I did indeed call it CALL OF THE CURLEW in 2010 (am I responsible for what I did in 2010??), and I know it’s not a nightingale (although that’s about where my birding knowledge stops). but everyone calls the film “The Nightingale’s Prayer” in English. So I’m just goin’ along to get along. I used to call Eissa’s book OUR MASTER, too.

    1. And believe you me there are some folks who excoriate me every time every time I type “The Televangelist.”

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