Friday Finds: Two 1975 Stories by Muhammad Mustajab

Egyptian writer Muhammad Mustajab is a delightful and under-appreciated crafter of short stories:

Over at Youssef Rakha’s Cosmopolitan Hotel, Robin Moger has brought together two short stories — “The Guide” and “A List of Cuts” — that were part of a series published in Al Thaqafa magazine in 1975, and later collected in Al Qissas Al Ukhra (or The Other Stories).

“The Guide” begins:

He wandered into my path. My shoulder knocked into his shoulder and we smiled or apologised. The traffic, he said. I walked on. He turned and followed me. He said again, The traffic. I moved to the kerb and waited. He said shyly, I’m looking for the university placement office? He held out a piece of paper. I didn’t look at the piece of paper. He said, My eldest boy. He said, I’m from Tanta. He said, It’s cold. The traffic.

“A List of Cuts” opens:

Come quickly. Reading the telegram’s summons, it never occurred to me that I would find him murdered. That I would find my father, murdered.

Those who have not already read Mustajab’s “The Battle of the Rabbits,” also in Moger’s translation, should get themselves down to Qisas Ukhra.

There is also a delightful and weird collection of Mustajab’s work, translated by Humphrey Davies, Tales from Dayrut: Egyptian Stories.

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