I only found out about Banipal a week or two ago and thought of buying a copy, but at 18 pounds for 3 issues (not too bad) and 17 pounds for shipping (ridiculous) forget that. Fortunately, I live near a major university and they have a subscription. I read through issue 25, New Writing from Egypt. First, I was impressed with the quality of the writing. Too often I have read journals that are compendiums of authors and they aren’t particularly interesting. The authors who I found interesting and have books in English were Ahmed Alaidy’s Being Abbas el Abd (American University Cairo, 2006), which not only was an interesting story, but lexicographically interesting; and Hamdy Abowgliel’s Thieves of Retirement (Syracuse University Press, 2006). They bother were in the more seedy and criminal seeming vain but look worth perusing.
In addition to these writers, were several who were more playful in their stories, such as Haytham Al-Wardany’s Pissing on the World which is just about boys pissing on streets and seeing what they can get away with. Also of note was Ibrahim Farghali’s brief story The Monotonous Rhythm of the Years of Drought which describes the humiliation a man feels when he cheats on his fiancé with his old girlfriend. Safaa Ennagar’s Amoeba was about a woman who wears shapely cloths before her marriage, but after must wear baggy ones. One day in a private moment she again finds the freedom to wear the tighter clothes and has a moment of transcendence.
The collection is filled with interesting works, although having looked at a couple other issues, I do know they can be a little poetry heavy which isn’t bad, just something I don’t read much.
To finish I’ll quote Ennagar who comments on the state of Egyptian writing:
Literary production in Egypt today is either a way of releving the poetic situation of the writer or a kind of intellectual luxury that goes beyond reality. It is a literature of the “ghetto” that neither affects, nor is affected by, social and political movements. It is new on the levels of both form and content, but is presented only within the circle of the literati; there is no interest in spreading it outside the small elite. The print-run is limited (usually 1000 copies) as official institutions generally support works that are more traditional and lasting.
2 thoughts on “Banipal – New Egyptian Writing (Spring 2006)”
I haven’t read this Banipal (although I’m a current subscriber and, yes, pay and arm and a leg for them to ship to Egypt).
I would say Ennagar exaggerates a bit—or maybe a great deal—to say that Cairo’s literary “ghetto” is fully apart from sociopolitical movements, and is not interested in spreading beyond the elite. That is certainly a thread in Egyptian literature, (for better as well as worse; it’s less affected by “bottom-line-ism” than lit in the U.S.) but does not explain the whole of it.
Khaled al Khamissi’s /Taxi/, for instance, is clearly interested in engaging with a larger national consciousness. Alaa el Aswany, for all his flaws, also is keenly interested in sociopolitical realities. Publisher Dar el Shorouq has recently started looking at blogs and trying to turn them into more popular books with much larger print runs.
A friend who recently lived for a while in Jerusalem and returned to Cairo was very disappointed with with the small numbers at a recent book event. In Palestine, she told me, an event like this would be jammed with people!
So I agree, wholeheartedly, that there are large gaps between Cairo’s literati and non-. (Some of this is also the doings of censorship, another topic entirely.) But it would be untrue to say that no literary writers are interested in bridging this gap and engaging with “greater” Egypt.
Thanks for the comments and perspective. As much as I’m interested in Arabic writing, I don’t have a great understanding on the scene. Your blog is sure a big help and I am glad I found it recently, although I think the list of books you have mentioned and which I’d like to read is now starting to get unmanageable. I also liked your interview in the Quarterly Conversation a couple months back.
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