Corruptions of Places: Between the Cracks of Wisdom and Overwhelming Tragedy

A re-reading of Sabri Moussa’s classic Seeds of Corruption:

By Mahmoud Hosny

“What’s the benefit of departure, Nicola, when you’re inside of yourself wherever you go?”

So asks Egyptian writer and scenarist Sabri Moussa (1932 – 2018) in the voice of Nicola, the protagonist of his most important novel Seeds of Corruption (فساد الأمكنة ).

In the first third of the work, you begin asking yourself how someone could write a fictional piece of such purity, diving deep into human nature and catching the wisdom in the midst of corruption. After that, multiple characters appear, and it seems that the novel will go off in many, needless directions. And when the writer returns to the main track, Nicola and his fatalism, the work leans to be more poetic in its narrative rhythm. Until we grow close to the end, and, at this point, we find the purity of the desert melting into the larger effect of the calamity. The story’s backdrop can be compared to the Greek tragedies, particularly Oedipus.

We see Nicola, who is coming from Russia, crossing Italy and leaving the woman who he meets there and marries. This woman tries to convince him to stay beside her and stop traveling, and she becomes pregnant from him. But Nicola leaves, going to south of Egypt’s eastern desert, looking for the gold in the heart of the mountains.

He enters the desert with a child’s amazement, finding the gold, making a friend who will die, searching for other metals inside the mountain and becoming more focused on what he’s found and how he can trade in it. The other miners know about what he’s doing. Indeed, the king of Egypt and men of state visit his place, and here the fatal blow comes closer, as the king sleeps with Nicola’s daughter. But an illusion controls Nicola’s mind, and he thinks that he’s slept with his own daughter and that he’s made her pregnant.

After this, Nicola throws himself to the sharks in the Red Sea. However, he survives, his mind still full of his illusions. So he decides not to leave the desert, hanging his cross on his shoulders and walking with it all the time, even after the others who worked with him have left the place.

Through incredible novelistic poetic text, with multiple layers, Nicola’s tragedy remains a while with the reader, without finding clear answers or judging on the things easily, as is true of every unique piece of art.