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. Theresa, trans. 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 Gun, with 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 Virgin, trans. 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 Flowers, trans. 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.