Friday Finds: An Excerpt of ‘Cigarette Number 7’

For Women in Translation Month (#WiTMonth), read an excerpt of one our “9 in 2018: Best of New Translated Arabic Lit by Women,” Donia Kamel’s Cigarette Number Seven:

Image snagged off @DoniaKamal

As we know from Twitter (@DoniaKamal), Kamel has recently quit smoking, so perhaps her next charming novel will feature a character with nicotine cravings.

In any case, Cigarette Number Sevenis Kamal’s second novel, for which she won the Sawiris Emerging Authors prize in 2015, three years after it was originally published in 2012. This cigarette-filled novel foregrounds a moving story of family, loss, and disappointment set around the 18 days. One of the aspects that must have surely charmed the Sawiris judges — as there were so many books about the 18 days and Tahrir published in 2012 — was how grumpy the protagonist was about her time in the square. There are no pink rainbows or candy-coated revolutions here.

Nadia’s relationships and friendships in the novel are rich and full of life, and the book is smoothly translated by Nariman Youssef. If you lived in Egypt during the 18 days — or if you followed them from afar — it’s wonderful to see them again, through the lens of cranky, disbelieving, eternally disappointed Nadia, her friends, and her family.

An excerpt online, translated by Youssef, begins with a Mahfouz quote: “Nothing lies between us and happiness but the demons that lie within us.”

After that, there’s a charming dedication, and then the first chapter, where the narrator is not yet five:

I sat next to my grandmother on an old wooden couch in the spacious apartment and watched as she sifted uncooked rice to remove the small stones and mites that might have crept into the cloth sack she had bought at the cooperative. On a bed in the same room, my grandfather lay on his side next to the radio. The voice of Umm Kulthum was interspersed with radio static. For the rest of my life I would never learn to appreciate Umm Kulthum without the static.

I was not yet ve years old, and had been living with my grandparents for as long as I could remember. My grandparents lived on the fifth floor of a huge, ancient building on the main road of a small city. There was no elevator, and Grandma often carried me up the wide staircase. I didn’t talk much, but I absorbed every detail around me: every grain of rice on the red tray on Grandma’s lap, every word in the song coming out of the radio— “the evening sauntered toward us, then harked to the love in our eyes”—and every line on Grandpa’s serene face as he listened.

Keep reading the excerpt.

You can also read an author-translator conversation between Kamal and Youssef, where Youssef opens the conversation saying:

I first read your novel in 2013. I was personally going through a very low time – both in reaction to political/public events and on a personal level – and it was strangely refreshing to read something that was set in 2011 and that reflected that mood.

Keep reading the author-translator chat.