Short Story #41. Faeries of the Nile (Mansoura Ez-Eldin)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the king of spades.

Story: Faeries of the Nile, by Mansoura Ez-Eldin [in The Granta Book of the African Short Story] (translated from the Arabic by Raphael Cohen)

Comments: Mansoura Ez-Eldin is an Egyptian writer and journalist.  In this story she explores the responses of a woman trapped in a very limited situation: physical poverty, a betraying and abusive husband, the death of their only son.  The “river faeries” sing to the woman, entrance her, seduce her, and she succumbs…  One critic says that it is a story about sexual repression, but I think that it points to much more than just sexual desire.  It is about the woman’s desire for freedom, for self-determination, for a voice.  The story itself gives the woman, Zeenat, no voice: it is told from the points of view of an omniscient narrator, and of the husband.

There are some great phrases: “my wife cried a lot, at her mother’s direction”; “She obeys me as if castigating me with obedience”.

The Guardian’s reviewer found the story “incredibly dated”, and Think Africa Press said it “show[s] a little too strongly the influence of past generations and styles… Faeries of the Nile is a story in the tradition of tiresome magical realism”.  But I agree more with the Goodreads reviewer who calls it “a great piece of imaginative literature” and other more positive reviews.  I would be happy to read more by this author.

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#35. The Yacoubian Building (Alaa Al Aswany)

Book: The Yacoubian Building, by Alaa Al Aswany

Genre and Year of Publication: Fiction, 2004

Where I got it: Bought in The Open Door used book shop (paperback, translated from Arabic) (read in July; reviewed in October)

Length: 256 pages

Briefly, it weaves together the stories of the lives of various people who live in the same apartment complex in contemporary Cairo.

Comments: I first came across Alaa Al Aswany through his short story “Mme Zitta Mendès, a Last Image” in The Granta Book of the African Short Story, and when I saw this book in the used book store I immediately picked it up.  It wasn’t exactly an easy read, but it was a worthwhile one.  The interlocking stories of the various residents of this once upmarket but now pretty run-down building portray all kinds of human situations.  The limited options of many people, and the consequent fatalism or despair into which they fall are realistically portrayed.  Most eye-opening for me, was the depiction of the young man who becomes involved in an extremist Islamic movement – eye-opening because credible.

I’ll be passing this book on to someone else to enjoy.

Read the Goodreads comments for more insightful reviews.

Challenges: 2014 Africa Reading Challenge

Short Story #9: Mme Zitta Mendès, a Last Image (Alaa Al Aswany)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the six of clubs.

Story: Mme Zitta Mendès, a Last Image, by Alaa Al Aswany (translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies) [in The Granta Book of the African Short Story]

Comments: This is a beautifully written story.  It is very simple, consisting mainly of two depictions of the same woman, known to the narrator as “Tante Zitta” – she was his father’s mistress.  The first scene depicts her in 1961, when he was a boy, going to visit “Tante Zitta” with his father on Sunday afternoons; the second tells of a chance encounter between the narrator, now an adult, and the aging woman, in 1996.  For an excellent review of the story, see this blog post.

Alaa Al Aswany is an Egyptian writer, and I will be on the lookout for more of his work.