Friday Finds: ‘Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge’

Before its April 1 pub date, a brief excerpt of Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge, by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere — trans. John Peate — appeared on The Guardian:

But there is also a longer excerpt of Fishere’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF)-shortlisted novel on the Hoopoe website.

This novel marked the second time the diplomat-cum-novelist had made an IPAF longlist. The first time was in 2009, with his novel Intensive Care.

His most recent novel, All That Rubbish (2017), was much-anticipated in Egypt, and Mada Masr — which calls the novel “a triumph,” writes that it’s a “wild amalgamation of all Egypt’s major revolutionary events of the last six years, it’s an ambitious literary project that includes themes such as activists receiving foreign funding, sexual violence, police brutality, same-sex love, corruption and terrorism.”

Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge touches on a more American reality: “around immigration and identity, and the 9/11 character who is Trump’s dream bad immigrant,” as Fishere has said.

Within the excerpt provided by Hoopoe, there are reminiscences inspired by British-Lebanese historian Albert Hourani’s History of the Arab Peoples (1991), which Darwish remembers giving to his English girlfriend Jane:

Enter Albert Hourani. When he gave her the book, she seemed pleased. She did start reading it, but soon gave up, saying it was boring and that she preferred to learn through mixing with people.

But she didn’t learn through mixing with people. In fact, she slid deeper into “idiotic tourist syndrome,” as Darwish diagnosed it. This was an ongoing argument between them, as she believed the real problem was that his way of thinking barred him from recognizing any of the complications unique to Egypt. He would protest that he was born of Egypt’s soil, but he couldtell the difference between complications and plain old bad behavior. In his view, Egyptians needed re-education. Whether it was because of their poverty or ignorance or poor education made no difference to him; the upshot was a deterioration in their moral codes. She would counter that he was the victim of his Western education, which had planted in him this naïve idea that people could be reformed through argument or appeals to conscience. That’s why he fought with everyone all the time: because he preached at them instead of trying to understand them. He would laugh and ask sarcastically whether that was an insult or a compliment, and her face would redden.

On one occasion, she gave the example of the passport official who had been dragging his feet over her visa papers until she had quietly slipped him fifty Egyptian pounds. Darwish had protested at the time: “That’s exactly the kind of petty bribery that has built the grand ediÅce of corruption in this country.”

She tried to remind him that there was more to it than that, adding, “The state pays its employees a nominal salary, knowing it’s not enough to get by on and that they will top it up from those who need services and favors.”

“That’s just an excuse.”

“But that’s how things really are. You can’t claim right or wrong when that’s how life is here.”

He gave her a condescending smile, patted her shoulder, and said, “That is a perfect example of your confused logic. Right is right and wrong is wrong. The only people who confuse the two are the morally bankrupt.”

“What you call immorality is actually just a different type of morality, with its own beauty.”

That really irked him. He felt he was involved with an imbecile; all she needed was to wear rags and run after a Sufi nutcase. He accused her of compensating for her failure to integrate into British life by taking a stance that allowed her to feel superior. She was a victim of her own mythmaking about the mysterious Orient. She countered that he was, in fact, infatuated with the myth of Western order. He looked at her with almost complete despair. Then he said there was a seminar he wanted to catch, and left. After this familiar argument, their life would return to its calm normality.

Read the whole excerpt at Hoopoe Fiction.