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Everything you need to know about the world's great writers and emerging voices is being collected and shared on the English PEN Online World Atlas. Head over to the Atlas to create (or edit) a profile for your favourite author or book, leave a comment or contact another user, and discover your next great read. We believe that great writing has the power to change your life and change the world, one book at a time.

The Atlas is proud to be partnering with the Hay Festival's Beirut39 contest, celebrating Beirut's year as UNESCO World Book Capital, to find the hottest authors under 40 of Arabic origin. Nominations are open until August 24th, 2009.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Egypt: Belal Fadl's Essays reviewed by Baheyya

A thoughtful review by Egyptian blogger Baheyya gives an intricate context for the new collection of essays by screenwriter and al-Destour editor (read more about those aspects of his career in this Egypt Today article) Belal Fadl. Baheyya describes his new collection as "irresistibly named" and she's right -- I'd definitely pick up a book called The Original Inhabitants of Egypt: Stories about the Genius of the Place, the Idiocy of the Rulers, and the Indifference of the People if it were ever to appear in translation. "Original Inhabitants," Baheyya explains, are
Egyptians who are neither rich nor middle class, but somewhere in the vast space beneath, what we alternately call lower-middle class, lower class, underclass, the marginalized, or the horrid “simple folk” (البسطاء).
But, as she goes on to elucidate, Fadl has made his career out of peddling stereotypes of these ordinary Egyptians in films and TV -- and he does so in many of the essays. As Baheyya avers, this seems a shame because -- from her account, at least -- the book appears to open up a view of Egypt's proletariat (to use a word coined by another great essayist), at once traditional and modernising, that translations of Alaa al-Aswany's novels have only begun to broach for non-Arabic readers.

Baheyya has thoughtful reviews of two other works of non-fiction that cast a light: Karima a-Hifnawy's Diary of a Pharmacist (review), a memoir by an outstanding activist who -- like her better-known contemporary Nawal al-Saadawi -- combines medicine, human rights and an assured literary tone, and novelist Galal Amin's What Has Life Taught Me (review). The blogger may claim that
Autobiography is my least favourite literary genre, too easily prone to posturing and self-exoneration, or else heavy woe-is-me tales about the author’s suffering at the hands of a cruel world. Life is already too full of braggarts and whiners to have to be subjected to them in books
but her reviews suggest that -- above and beyond the pitiful rate of fiction in translation (see ThreePercenter Chad Post's most recent round-up and sharp analysis of US stats at Publishing Perspectives -- we're missing out if memoirs, essays and autobiographies aren't crossing languages and cultures as well.

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