Every year, we await the arrival of the Cairo International Book Fair to buy the novels and books we’ve been adding to that never ending list we have on our phones. Many of those books we can’t get anywhere else because they are exclusively released at the book fair, and you have to wait what feels like an eternity to get them afterwards. The fair - which runs until the 10th of February - also serves as a great platform to discover Egyptian authors and become acquainted with their works regardless of whether you’re an Arabic or English reader.
We’ve put together a list of 8 books written by Egyptian authors that you definitely need to get your hands on because they are full of cultural and political insights that reflect life in Egypt across multiple generations. You also need to get them because books are life, and if you don’t think that books are life, then go sit in a corner and face the wall because we don’t like you.
Mortal Designs by Reem Bassiouney
Reem Bassiouney presents a three-way love story between Asma – a peasant with narrowed-minded ambitions, Hazem – a man of privilege and an accomplished architect, and conceited Army Captain, Morad who would like to be buried like a rich pharaoh when he dies. Asma insists that Morad’s burial site, designed by Hazem, is to be built on her land because she believes it will transform the financial conditions for herself and her three children. Her life is changed, but not in the way she predicted, as she proceeds to fall in love with Hazem, after having great admiration for Morad. Mortal Designs is a cunning allegory of social class differences, politics and Egypt in the 21st century.
Kol Haza Elhora’ (All That Nonsense) by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere
The novel begins with Amal waking up in her bed after spending the night with her lover, Omar. Kol Haza Elhora’ then unravels the scandalous hidden secrets of Egyptian society that are not publicly disclosed. After being hit with mixed feelings of hope and despair, readers are left to discover whether Amal will be able hold her life together, or whether she will give up.
Zar by Hager El Hadidi
Incorporating elements and practices from Sufi traditions, Zar digs into the invisible spiritual world to provide the reader with insights about music rituals and dances, and the meanings that are often overlooked through these practices. It is believed that ‘zar’ is the name of a demon that often possesses people (mostly women) and causes them great distress. The musical ceremonies allow for comfort, social support, and allow people to access their own spiritual healing. Having studied hundreds of zar songs, Hager El Hadidi attempts to create a modern exposition of history, culture and suggestions for the practice to be used today.
Ard Ilaah (Land of God) by Ahmed Mourad
Similar to his previous political thrillers, Ahmed Mourad picks the reader’s brain and questions their understanding of Egyptian history. Ard Ilaah follows the story of a man who attempts to uncover the unknown secrets and theories of ancient Egypt when authorities then interfere and obstruct the investigation to serve their own agendas. Mourad aims to provoke our historical knowledge and interrogate the information that we easily accept.
Ayam Fi Mothakerat Al Masryin (Memoirs of Egyptian History) by Awatef Serag Eldin
Awatef Serag Eldin recounts the political history of Egypt from the 1919 revolution that sought the removal of colonial powers, to the ousting of Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Serag Eldin cleverly pinpoints significant transitions in Egyptian history and proceeds to analyse the theories that emerged from those transitions. The reader is left with an image of what the country may have been like had certain regimes continued. The book concludes with an outlook on Egypt today and addresses the gaps that exist as a result of corruption and missing documentation.
Baligh by Talal Faisal
Talal Faisal collects intricate historical details about the life of Baligh Hamdy as a musician and composer, and a long time lover to singer Warda Al-Jazairia. Faisal’s obsession with Baligh Hamdy pushes him to create a taut literary novel that almost idolises the composer. Subsequently, the story takes place between Paris and Berlin in an attempt to create a realistic shift in time that reflects the life of Baligh Hamdy in the most accurate way possible.
Yakfy Anana Ma’an (What Matters is that We’re Together) by Ezzat el Kamhawi
Yakfy Anana Ma3an is a fictional novel that questions the unlikely age difference in a romantic relationship between a lawyer in his 60s, and a PhD architecture student aged 27. While the novel addresses the issues associated with age bias, it also taps into the relationship between the strict language of a lawyer and the abstract conceptions of a visually based architect.
Men El Shebak (From the Window) by Ahmed Khair Eldeen
Men El Shebak is a collection of short stories written by the Egyptian journalist and media figure, Ahmed Khair Eldeen. The short tales illustrate moments and difficult situations that occur in every household and to every person, but are often overlooked. The reader then becomes aware that they are, in fact, unavoidable occurrences.
Bedaman (The Egg Man) by Ali Alaa and Kerolos Bahgat
Bedaman is an Egyptian superhero whose primary purpose in life is to produce organic eggs. Bedaman's aim is to ensure the entire population can have enough omelettes to last a lifetime. Illustrated by Ali Alaa, the graphic novel confronts many contemporary Egyptian issues, such as street waste, in a witty and light-hearted manner. Alaa has also placed Morse code on the top left corner of each page to humorously comment on the storyline produced by Kerolos Bahgat.
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