Lit & Found: An Excerpt of Ihsan Abdel Kouddous’s ‘I Do Not Sleep’

This October, AUC Press will publish the first-ever full-length translation of a novel by Ihsan Abdel Kouddous (1919–90), one of the twentieth century’s most prolific and popular writers of Arabic fiction:

From the 1957 film.

The novel has been translated by scholar Jonathan Smolin, who has previously translated Youssef Fadel’s A Rare Blue Bird Flies With Me and Abdelilah Hamdouchi’s White Fly. In his introduction to  لا أنام, being translated as I Do Not Sleep, Smolin writes that, “It Is shockIng that Ihsan Abdel Kouddous is still largely unknown outside of the Arab world.” Smolin adds, “Ihsan employed simple vocabulary and sentence structure in a way that appealed to the widest possible readership— especially young people—but not to literary critics.”

This epistolary novel is told from the point of view of twenty-one-year-old Nadia Lutfi, and it relays the story of her return from boarding school at 16, when she finds that her father, who raised her after her parents’ divorce, has gotten remarried. The beautiful Nadia plunges herself into the melodramatic business of separating the two.

It opens:

Dear Ihsan,

I’m Nadia Lutfi.

You don’t know me, even if I did turn your head both times you saw me. Once on Sidi Bishr beach in Alexandria and another time at the Semiramis Hotel in Cairo. Each time, I didn’t pay much attention to you, as I’d gotten used to turning men’s heads.

-tr. Jonathan Smolin, I Do Not Sleep

You can read the whole extract on their website.

As is true of many of Abdel Kouddous’s novels, there was a film adaptation: Sleepless (1957) starred major cinematic lights Faten Hamama, Omar Sharif, and Hind Rostom, among others. It was influential and beloved, and actress Paula Mohamed Mostafa Shafiq took “Nadia Lutfi” as her screen name.

You can watch it on YouTube.