Bulaq 15: Alexandria When?

The Bulaq podcast hit episode 15 this week, discussing varieties of “cosmopolitanism,” literature from, about, and set in Alexandria, and MLQ and Ursula’s favorite (and least favorite) reads from the last two weeks:

If you haven’t given it a listen, this is as good a time as any to begin. This week’s main event centered around May Hawas’s essay “How Not to Write on Cosmopolitan Alexandria,” whichtakes as its starting point Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet and particularly the first book, Justine. In it, Hawas — who you might know as the editor of Waguih Ghali’s diaries or for her participation in our “Teaching with Arabic Literature in Translation” series — shows a wonderfully biting side to her critical persona.

Other books set in Alexandria we discuss include: several by Ibrahim Abdelmeguid, particularly his No One Sleeps in Alexandria, trans. Farouk Abdel Wahab, Naguib Mahfouz’s Miramar,and works by Alaa Khaled and the late Edwar al-Kharrat. We also discussed Bahaa Abdelmeguid’s St. Theresatrans. Chip Rossetti, is, in part, about the 1960s expulsions from Alexandria. And Youssef Ziedan’s Azazeel.

After the break, we moved to a discussion of Marwan Hisham’s memoir-reportage Brothers of the Gunwith art by Molly Crabapple, which came out May 15. It details life under the Islamic State in Raqqa and covers, from a quite different point of view, some of the same ground as Dunya Mikhail’s The Beekeper, which we discussed in Episode 8. This book is markedly different from many other works that have come out of Syria post-2011, such as Hamid Suleiman’s Freedom Hospital, in that the impetus does not seem to move public opinion, but rather to — as the author rather nakedly says — achieve literary immortality.

Hated it, loved it

Hanan al-Shaykh’s The Occasional Virgintrans. Catherine Cobham, comes out June 15, and is a mashup of two of al-Shaykh’s novellas: Two Women by the Sea and Virgins of Londonstan.

Stella Gaitano’s Withered Flowerstrans. Anthony Calderbank, is available in bookshops in Juba, South Sudan. This collection has moves reminiscent both of short-story writers Yusuf Idris and Muhammad Zafzaf and gets a strong recommend.

Your feedback

We are always interested in your thoughts, suggestions, and ideas for future topics. You can find the podcast at arabist.net/bulaq/ or ITunes or Overcast. We’re also on Twitter at @BulaqBooks.


  1. posted a long comment on the relevant arabist.net link, which was wiped out by the login form, which did not recognize or carry over the WP id.

    1. Bummer! Sorry about that.

  2. No worries. I resubmitted to the publishing megalla, instead, a simple question: how did the owner of Petros Café die? I am going to post something in my blog about this podcast, which I thought was fascinating, and raised many important questions — though alas there the comments have been nonexistent, perhaps because this is a subject that does not lend itself to snippy/snappy one sentence positionality. Some of the questions / comments that came to mind as I listened involved some minor nit-picky factual corrections (particularly involving Cossery), but others had to do to do with Hawas’s binary demarcation into nostalgic vs non nostalgic camps vis a vis the now vanished Alexandria. I actually lived there as a boy, at the tail end of that period, and still remember much of it very clearly. I wonder if the distinctions drawn accurately reflect how Alex was at the time, or is this merely a thesis posited by those, alas, who simply were not yet around to experience Arrousa-al-bahr as she once was, with respect to the views (esp. academic interpretations) held today as to how it was then.

Comments are closed.