Egyptian Novelist Hamdy Abu Golayyel Dies at 56: ‘There Was No One Like Him’

Singular Egyptian novelist Hamdy Abu Golayyel — a chronicler of the lives of Egypt’s marginalized and working-class — died yesterday, his daughter Hala announced.

The novelist, about whom novelist Ahmed Naji tweets, “there was no one like him,” was 56.

Abu Golayyel, of Bedouin origins, was born in 1968. His first literary publication was a short-story collection, Swarms of Bees (1997) followed by another short-story collection, Items Folded with Great Care (2000). His first novel, Thieves in Retirement, was published in 2002, and his second, الفاعل, won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal and was translated by Robin Moger as A Dog with No Tail (2008). He has won a number of literary awards, including the 2022 Banipal Prize for Humphrey Davies’ translation of his wild, border- and boundary-crossing 2018 novel, قيام وانهيار الصاد شين, translated as The Men Who Swallowed the Sun.

 He was editor-in-chief of the “Popular Studies series,” which specializes in folklore research, and he wrote for Arabic news outlets, such as al-Ittihad and al-Safir

As Ibrahim Fawzy wrote in a special section on the author:

Abu Golayyel’s works have received much praise. Ursula Lindsey called A Dog with No Tail, “A clever and complex meditation . . . full of swift sarcasm . . . an exploration of Abu Golayyel’s Bedouin identity.” Mona Zaki described Thieves in Retirement as “a great read” while the Library Journal called it “masterful.” And the BULAQ podcast called The Men Who Swallowed the Sun “an anti-epic epic told in a rough, powerful storyteller’s voice.” 

Abu Golayyel’s works focuses mostly on the lives of the dispossessed, mostly men, in Egypt and abroad. These men are often in the process of struggling to reinvent their lives; to do so, they must reinvent language, reinvent their stories. His works don’t focus only on drawing a portrait of Bedouin society and culture, but they also celebrate the Bedouin dialect.


A Talk with Hamdi Abu Golayyel: On Bringing Bedouin Language & Culture Out of the Shadows

Translations of his writing:

An excerpt from Thieves in Retirement, tr. Marilyn Booth

An excerpt of The Men Who Swallowed the Sun on the Hoopoe Fiction website


A Playlist for Hamdi Abu Golayyel’s ‘The Men Who Swallowed the Sun’

BULAQ’s “Stealing, Drug-dealing, and the Epic of Egyptian Migration.”

Video: Streets and Stories: a conversation with Hamdi Abu Golayyel