Every Friday, ArabLit suggests a new classic film-book combination — for you to watch and read — until we run out of steam about 20 weeks in:
A number of Ihsan Abdel Quddous’s (1919-1990) popular novels have been adapted to film, although, despite his massively popularity, his work has not made its way into English. His I’m Free apparently has been translated by Trevor LeGassick, although it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere.
In a two-part interview, LeGassick spoke to Hadil Ghoneim about Abdel Quddous’s place in Egyptian letters:
I rated Ihsan very highly. I wrote an article that included commentary on him, Mahfouz and Yusuf Idris in the Middle East Journal in 1967. He wrote some novels that presented life from a woman’s view, like Al-Wisada Al-Khaliya(The Empty Pillow, 1957), for example. Very nice, appropriate discussion of the position of women in Egyptian society. The fact was, everybody was reading his work, and everybody knew that everybody else was reading his work. He reached a level of popularity that nobody else had. The American University in Cairo did a survey at one time on who was the most popular novelist, and Ihsan topped the list.
Indeed, illegal downloads of Abdel Quddous’s novels continue at a rapid clip.
It was leading translator-scholar Samia Mehrez who recommended the combination of the two I’m Frees for this list of Friday films; the book and film both foreground women’s independence. And, in a re-assessment of the film in Mada Masr in 2015, Rowan El Shimi wrote: “Salah Abu Seif’s 1958 production Ana Hurra (I am Free) was definitely ahead of its time. But then again so was the Ihsan Abdel Quddous novel it was based on, published in 1952.”
Previous Friday films:
A Beginning and an End, based on the novel by Naguib Mahfouz
For Bread Alone, based on the novel by Mohamed Choukri
Gate of the Sun, based on the novel by Elias Khoury
The Dupes, based on Ghassan Kanafani’s Men in the Sun
Diary of a Country Prosecutor, based on a novel by Tawfiq al-Hakim
Adrift on the Nile, based on a novel by Naguib Mahfouz
A Nightingale’s Prayer, based on a novel by Taha Hussein.
Kit Kat, based on the novel The Heron by Ibrahim Aslan, available in translation by Elliott Colla.
The Egyptian Citizen, based on Yusuf al-Qa’id’s award-winning novel War in the Land of Egypt
The Lamp of Umm Hashem, inspired by a novella by Yahia Haqqi