The American University in Cairo Press, 2013, 244 pages
A selection of the most important prose and stage works of the great Egyptian playwright, brought together by the leading translator of Arabic literature
The importance of Tawfiq al-Hakim (1898–1987) to the emergence of a modern Arabic literature is second only to that of Naguib Mahfouz. If the latter put the novel among the genres of writing that are an accepted part of literary production in the Arab world today, Tawfiq al-Hakim is recognized as the undisputed creator of a literature of the theater. In this volume, Tawfiq al-Hakim’s fame as a playwright is given prominence. Of the more than seventy plays he wrote, The Sultan’s Dilemma, dealing with a historical subject in an appealingly light-hearted manner, is perhaps the best known; it appears in the extended edition of Norton’s World Masterpieces and was broadcast on the old Home Service of the BBC. The other full-length play included here, The Tree Climber, is one that reveals al-Hakim’s openness to outside influences—in this case, the absurdist mode of writing. Of the two one-act plays in this collection, The Donkey Market shows his deftness at turning a traditional folk tale into a hilarious stage comedy. Tawfiq al-Hakim produced several of the earliest examples of the novel in Arabic; included in this volume is an extract from his best known work in that genre, the delightful Diary of a Country Prosecutor, in which he draws on his own experience as a public prosecutor in the Egyptian countryside. Three of the many short stories he published are also included, as well as an extract from The Prison of Life, an autobiography in which Tawfiq al-Hakim writes with commendable frankness about himself.
Sons of Gebelawi, initially published in 2009 by Dar al-Ain, takes as its jumping-off point Naguib Mahfouz’s controversial Children of the Alley,published in English as Children of Gebelawi. The 1959 novel sparked a religious judgment against Mahfouz which, years later, inspired an assassination attempt against Egypt’s Nobel Prize-winning author.
Farghali’s novel has been printed and sold within Egypt, but has faced censorship trouble at the border, when being shipped back from book fairs abroad. Sons of Gebelawi has not yet found a translator, although Farghali’s eariler novel, Smiles of Saints, is available in English (trans. Andy Smart and Nadia Fouda-Smart).
Mohammed Ibrahim, jeune Cairote d’une vingtaine d’années, décide avec son ami Moneim de partager une chambre dans le centre-ville, loin de sa famille et loin du terne destin conjugal qu’il est appelé à connaître aux côtés de sa cousine Hind, sa fiancée, avec qui il entretient une relation beaucoup trop convenable à son goût. S’il affirme à ses parents que ce pied-à-terre facilitera ses recherches d’emploi, Mohammed entend surtout disposer d’une garçonnière, condition sine qua non pour multiplier à son gré les conquêtes féminines. Mais, dans cette métropole où l’intimité est un combat de tous les jours, où l'homme est un pigeon pour l’homme, où la vie réserve souvent de mauvaises surprises, les déconvenues sont nombreuses.
Mohammed Salah al-Azab jette une lumière crue sur la misère sexuelle de la jeunesse masculine du Caire, tout en décrivant avec beaucoup de justesse et un humour ravageur les combats ordinaires de sa génération, sur fond de crise du logement et de corruption généralisée.
Présentation de cet ouvrage par Salin Jay :"Un roman attachant de l’Égyptien Mohamed S. al Azab"