Publisher Seif Salmawy, of Al Karma Books, brought Adel Kamel’s works back to a new and wider audience in 2014:
Who first brought this project to Karma? How did this rediscovery process come about? What made you decide to take it on?
Seif Salmawy: When Al Karma was first established in 2013, we started a series called Mokhtarat Al Karma (Al Karma Selections) which aims to re-introduce what we consider modern classics. We focused on the forgotten and the neglected authors and works. Long out-of-print, rare to find — but still not in the public domain. Important and amazing novels, autobiographies and non-fiction titles by sometimes obscure authors who perhaps wrote one or two brilliant books and then vanished for various reasons. Some got disappointed or lost interest, like Adel Kamel. Sometimes their publisher closed down or they were self-published. In other cases, the family didn’t know how to keep their legacy alive, etc.
Al Karma wanted to introduce new generations of readers to these wonderful, and still relevant, works.
To achieve this, we spend a lot of time trying to find the author’s families (nearly all of the series’ authors are sadly no longer with us). We have a potential list of titles, which we would like to publish in the series and which we go after. Sometimes it takes a few months to locate the rights holders, sometimes it takes more than a year, and sometimes we find the family but they are not interested. Unfortunately, we don’t always succeed.
What has most pleased or surprised you about the books’ reception?
SS: We were amazed at the reception of the series and so happy to find that we were not so few who wanted to explore and find good but forgotten books. And some of the series’ fans send us suggestions of works they think should be included in the series.
Malleem Al Akbar, with its iconoclastic introduction, is probably one of the most important works of fiction to come out of Egypt in the past century. It had long been out of print, and many people had heard of it, but very few had actually read it. Additionally, Adel Kamel had gained a mythical status because of the way he vanished from the literary scene, and the few adoring quotes about him by Naguib Mahfouz. He had to be on our hit list.
After many months of searching, we were finally able to track down Adel Kamel’s daughters in the US. We wanted to reprint his two most important works: Malleem Al Akbar and Malik Min Shoaa (King of Rays, an enchanting novel about Akhenaten). We were ecstatic when the family kindly agreed and we felt that they were happy that their father’s work is in print again and is gaining new adorers every day.
What other works are in the series?
We usually release four titles per year from the series. Some are established masterpieces like Latifa El Zayat’s Al Bab Al Maftouh (The Open Door), Mohamed Khalil Qassem’s Nubian epic Al Shamandoura and Nihad Sherif’s sci-fi classic Qaher Al Zaman (The Tamer of Time), and some are hidden gems like Osman Sabry’s Beit Sirry (House of Ill Repute) and Kamal El Kelish’s Sadmet Taer Ghareeb (The Shock of a Strange Bird). The next batch will include works by the great Mohamed Mostagab and many more interesting surprises.
ArabLit: Translator Waleed Almusharraf, On Kamel’s Characters: ‘Despicable and Lovable with No Contradiction’
ArabLit: With His Daughters: Family Photos and Memories
Al Jazeera: Egyptian classic rediscovered in English
Hoopoe Fiction: Read an excerpt from the first chapter of The Magnificent Conman
The novel is available from AUC Press, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.Com, Amazon.Uk, and is best bought at your local bookshop.