translated by Humphrey Davies
It was love at first sight.
We can think of no better way to describe what befell Usta Hamzah when he first set eyes on the leather jacket—of that shade dark brown people sometimes refer to as “burnt”— tightly enfolding the body of a customer whom fate (or Usta Hamzah’s good, or bad, luck) had led to his small workshop by the Nile.
Some people attribute the phenomenon of love at first sight to the “chemistry” between the two beings involved or, more simply, to sexual desire. (The idea of chemistry between a man and a jacket may appear somewhat more acceptable when we recall certain persons’ passionate attachment to their cigarette lighters, for example, and the important psychological principle known as projection, albeit the idea of someone practicing sex with a jacket does seem less likely.)
His apprentice Lozah, in contrast, experienced the very same “instinctive,” spontaneous, ignition of love with regard to the jacket’s owner’s companion—that fair maiden around whose ponderous bust a cotton T-shirt swathed itself no less tightly than did the jacket her friend and whose firm, rounded posterior was garbed in expensive blue jeans. These thus set themselves up as rivals to the jacket in two fundamental respects—expense and tightness: a contest that seemed patently lop-sided to most of those watching, even while appearing eminently balanced to the enchanted Usta—for the apprentice Lozah, like everyone else in the neighbourhood, had fallen in love with the beauty from the near-but-distant world on the other side of the bridge, while his boss had gone potty over the jacket.
Each had his justifications, albeit in the end they came to the same thing. While Lozah had fallen in love with the young woman’s outstanding physical attributes, the boss had fallen in love with the jacket’s smooth leather, the sweet breast pockets in the shape of hearts (which reminded him of the pockets on the Lee-brand jeans so beloved of his generation), the zipper with the carefully sculpted (neither too large nor too small) pull tag that shone so gloriously, the slightly elastic cloth cuffs and waistband surrounding the customer’s wrists and midriff, the strong stitching that visibly though discreetly held the parts of the jacket together, and the leather strip with snap fasteners that ran the length of the erect collar.
Each lover had his own physical reasons for his infatuation with the beloved. There is, however, something important that, in an attempt to transcend the materiality implied by the value of the word “expensive,” we may term “sublimity.” The fair one radiated this value of sublimity via her expensive glasses, which she had pushed up and away from her wide, honey-coloured eyes, as also via her perfect make-up and the golden hair that descended in wavy tresses. In Usta Hamzah’s besotted eyes, the jacket did something similar.
To be fair, the boss did try to rid himself of his infatuation by focusing his thoughts on the repair of the customer’s elegant German car, which slept motionless next to his workshop. Despite this, at moments of the sort so well known to those in love, he would steal glances at the new object of his affections. The boss tried to tear his eyes away again as the customer was on his way out. (The man was paying his bill in tiny instalments, impelled by a well-grounded suspicion of skilled workers such as these, who helped themselves from the pockets of well-to-do clients. As usually happens, he was having no practical success in avoiding excessive labour costs but had succeeded extremely well in generating a feeling pride and satisfaction at his efforts, which was, it would seem, the point of the exercise).
The boss tried to forget his lost love, but despite this, while everyone in the neighbourhood was talking about the customer’s companion, he was asking avidly where the customer could have bought the jacket. He tried not to remember that he had asked the customer that very thing, only for the latter to give him a somewhat disdainful look and no answer; Hamzah had told himself that he shouldn’t have backed down—as plebeians so often do when dealing with the upper classes—and kept his mouth shut: the tight-lipped smile of disdain with which the customer reacted to his question had seemed intolerable to him. Eventually though, one of his friends from the small café on the corner of the side street—a youngster who, not having had for a father a mechanic who could bequeath him his workshop, worked as a tourist tout escorting foreigners around the nearby Downtown area and had thus made friends with the monsters of that world—intuited the source of his agony and torment. The Young Tout had, by coincidence, been passing at the same time as the fair maiden and her companion. The fair one, naturally, had attracted his attention, but, given his quite understandable interest in appearances, the jacket had done so too. He told the boss that jackets of that brand were to be found in places like City Stars, or at Behman’s at the Four Seasons, or at Arkadia, or at one of the boutiques in the streets of the nearby island of Gezirah, or on the far side of the river.
The critical point was reached when Usta Hamzah asked the Young Tout how much a jacket like that would cost and the latter replied, in tones reminiscent of those of the angel of death, that it couldn’t be less than five thousand pounds, and might be a lot more. The problem didn’t lie in any abject poverty Usta Hamzah might be living in, for he was “doing fine, praise God,” as he liked to say. It lay rather in an earlier romantic attachment to the notion of restoring that pride of the neighbourhood, which he had inherited as a symbol of his right to rule, meaning his father’s Vespa—an old (albeit 200cc Italian deluxe) model that needed modifications and up-grades. Or such at least was his opinion. It was not, however, one shared by his wife Naimah, who thought that the whole business, which had already cost the household budget a figure exceeding the above-mentioned sum, was just another of the foolish things with which Hamzah liked to keep himself busy, and was a “false front,” to use that harsh two-word judgment of hers that she did not have the wit to repress in her mother-in-law’s presence (if we are to suppose, that is, that she hadn’t expressly intended to give utterance to the slander in front of her).
Naimah believed, naturally enough, that their baby son Mahmoud, whom they had produced three months earlier as a companion for their daughter Khadijah (named after her own mother, now five years old, and with no one to play with) had a better right to care. Equally naturally, Hamzah’s understanding was that it hadn’t just been a matter of giving the girl some company: it was to be taken as a further shot to the head, delivered by Naimah to help her overcome her feelings of insecurity regarding their relationship, given her awareness that their quick couplings on the roof of his house, though conducted with an eagerness entirely capable of disappearing as the relationship wore on, were the main reason for their being together. The arrival of a boy child had therefore been sufficient to repress yet further Hamzah’s already repressed misgivings and provide a reasonable amount of solace for the overwhelming feeling he had of having been handed a life sentence.
Thus it was that Hamzah fell victim to a great love—one that, like all great loves, contained within it all the logical elements needed to make it incapable of consummation and possibly, even, forbidden. He tried, one more time, to distract himself from the issue and busied himself with his normal daily affairs, setting part of himself aside to tell him that when the baby had grown, and when Naimah had forgotten about the business with the Vespa, and when he had a large sum of spare cash in hand, he would buy the jacket, his one true love.
And, again as in all great love stories, a second coincidence turned up to match the first, for circumstance led him to Arkadia, which wasn’t so far from his workshop, to fix the car belonging to the manager of one of the companies operating in that large mall. The “Basha” had given up on what he called the “pride” and “conceitedness” of his regular mechanic from the poverty-stricken district behind the mall and, on the advice of one of his employees, turned to another to fix his car, which had been sitting idle in the mall’s garage ever since the local mechanic had said that he wouldn’t be available for another two hours. The Basha’s underling spoke to one of his friends, who recommended Hamzah (who did indeed enjoy an excellent professional reputation) and undertook to ask the new mechanic to come over.
The moment Hamzah picked up his bag of tools, along with his apprentice, and set off up the Corniche, he was filled with a tension whose source he couldn’t pin down. An hour later, though, at precisely that moment when he entered the amazing elevator, which looked to him like a transparent anti-biotic capsule, on his way to collect his payment from the Basha on the top floor, he was telling himself that there was “something creepy” about the whole thing. The Basha didn’t trust anyone other than himself to settle the bill with Hamzah, but we must confess, by way of compensation for the waves of bitter criticism to which we have subjected our characters’ motives and for the sake of objectivity, that he had genuinely meant to invite Hamzah to a cup of coffee or a cold drink, an offer he never for a moment expected that His Highness the Mechanic might refuse. Great therefore was his astonishment when Hamzah turned the offer down so resolutely as to detach himself from the class of “those who decline while in fact desiring” in which men sometimes place women and at other times the rich the poor. Instead, the mechanic insisted on leaving the luxurious office. He was in a huge hurry (though this did not prevent him from counting the money carefully) and ignored the mute objections of his apprentice, who was enjoying himself and could in fact have fancied a cold drink, or any of the hot white women who crossed the office every now and then, whether as customers or employees, in their relatively short skirts, the tokens of “sublimity” clearly visible upon them.
Once again, the boss and his apprentice were of one mind in their devotion to sublimity, but the apprentice’s love urged him to stay a little longer and try his luck, while precisely the same emotion urged Hamzah to leave in a hurry— for it had come about that while in the transparent anti-biotic capsule he had seen the love of this stage of his life hanging in the window of a luxurious store on the mall’s second floor. We have to admit that the law of coincidence has played many roles in this story since, had the rear elevator of the garage not been out of order, Hamzah would not have been allowed to enter the mall in his work clothes, and it was these same clothes that now elicited yet another haughty look from the salesman, who, forgetting that he was only that, responded to Hamzah’s eager question with the words “seven thousand pounds” as brusquely as if he were the store’s owner.
At the same time it so happened that this salesman possessed the important faculty of being able to audit his thoughts, and this enabled him to shift from the column “arrogance” to that of “envy”—in this case, of the workshop boss standing before him, for his lucrative (as popular legend would—often rightly—have it) profession. He therefore replied to Hamzah’s further question, concerning the jacket’s brand, with a name that the latter could only decode as “Roumani,” as though in reference to the Romans, or to the “Rollman bearings” so familiar to those in his profession, or as the same as the name “Roumani” that was borne by an old friend.
The Young Tout laughed when the boss told him that it was “a Roumani jacket” and cost seven thousand pounds and he too told him the correct name of the brand, but, strange to say, this time, the boss was not particularly interested in the name of the beloved. He repeated it a couple of times but kept going back to the name he favoured, which was the first—“Roumani.” Here we should add that Hamzah was annoyed by the Young Tout, who laughed at him even though he was many years his senior, earned much more than he did, and made his living—and this was the crucial point—from the sweat of his brow and not from the sweat of the toothless old foreign women to whom, he had heard, the other played escort.
This annoyance must have manifested itself in the form of some rebuke, or harsh tone of voice, or perhaps it was just because the Young Tout was kind-hearted, or it was all of these things. In any case the Young Tout proposed to Hamzah an outing to the Old Depot, which was close to both their houses, to see if they could find something resembling, if only distantly, the now forever vanished Roumani. He knew Abu Ashraf, Hamdi, and Abdallah, who were their friends and were merchants at the Depot, and they might be able to get him what he wanted. He for his part would take with him young Ahmad Abd El-Raouf, who was from the neighbourhood, and pick him out a set of clothes that accorded with European taste, so that he could go with him to a party to be held by one of his “lady friends” at her home in Maadi the following Friday.
The same idea had, of course, occurred frequently to Hamzah as he tossed and turned, licking his lips, in bed next to his wife, who usually snored, but some childish thing—something to which he had become habituated from the days when as a child he would be forced to wait, in the lead-up to the Lesser Feast, for his new outfit—made him resist it. He wanted a new jacket; one, to be precise, like the customer with the dazzlingly beautiful girl friend and the luxury German car. He wanted it so badly that he gave serious thought to atomizing the little pot belly that had ensconced itself on his body since his marriage so as to make it match the hollowed-out shape of the stomach of the customer enfolded by the jacket; or perhaps he could just suck his stomach in the way his father-in-law did when wearing his old summer suit. Certain unconstructive thoughts about the pointlessness of wearing such a superb jacket in his poor neighbourhood and as to what expensive locale he might repair to wear it, assailed him; but then he would remember the likes of that dandy Mr Taeemah who always took care to look exceedingly smart even if he were only sitting in their miserable café on the corner of the side street. He had set his sights on a higher goal: he would also buy a T-shirt and jeans as expensive as those worn by the customer, and there’d be no harm in a pair of high-sided boots with metal tips, like the Red Wing boots to which he’d lost his heart as an adolescent. By such means did his childhood erect an insurmountable barrier before the idea of buying a second-hand jacket.
Now, however, when the Young Tout put the same idea to him, this, on top of the cost of the jacket, shook his childish veto and left the field open to a voice that manifested itself solemnly in his mind, earnestly questioning whether there was really any difference between a beautiful used jacket—one that had seen, as the voice insisted, only the lightest of wear—and a new, over-priced one. The solemn voice went on to inform him that he’d really be smart if he could succeed in turning up a jacket resembling the lost beloved but at an unbeatably lower price.
These thoughts were going round and round in his head as he listened to the Young Tout, who was sitting next to his workshop greedily sucking down the smoke from “Castle Cut” molasses tobacco. Right away he set the pipe’s hose down on the bench, surrendered the workshop lock, stock, and barrel to Lozah, and set off with the Young Tout, who phoned Ahmad to meet them at the corner so that they could go and look for clothes at the Old Depot. They visited three shopkeepers and Hamzah went to great lengths to describe to them what he wanted, the Young Tout helping out with the nerve-wracking explanation more than once, while at the same time helping Ahmad with the purchase of a striped shirt of a well-known brand and second-hand blue jeans. Each of the shopkeepers listened and tried to help as much as he could. While at Ashraf’s, they noticed two foreign ladies (one somewhat advanced in years, the other in her mid-twenties, but demonstrating a shared caution when it came to Egyptian men in the crowd), causing the Young Tout to give Hamzah a victorious look, as though to say, “Even foreigners with hard currency buy clothes from the flea market!” Ahmad stared at the younger woman, hopes of what the anticipated Friday might bring rising in his head.
Usta Hamzah, however, could not find what he was looking for. He examined, with pre-emptive disappointment, the many jackets and coats that the three showed him. The childish part of his mind returned to confirm to him that nothing he had seen came up to the standard of his beloved Roumani, and it was true. Hamzah never found himself standing before the jackets he was shown as he had before the display case in the Arkadia shop. There, next to Lozah, he had been nailed to the spot as he inspected every centimetre of the jacket on display before him, comparing it to what it had looked like on the customer’s body and contemplating the shine on its supple, soft, costly leather, until Lozah, embarrassed by the way people were looking at them, insisted that they be on their way—only to be surprised to find the boss entering the shop, with a naiveté transformed in Lozah’s eyes into a lovable boldness, to ask the salesman about the jacket outside.
As he wallowed in his disappointment, the sound of distant cries reached his ears. Abandoning, along with everyone around him, what he was doing, he trained his eyes on a group of people, most of them young, approaching down the street shouting slogans against the president and the regime. Around this group hovered a number of men, many of whom he recognized as informers attached to the local police station, and these were using the cameras of their mobile phone to record the faces of those shouting the unexpectedly fierce slogans. Many, Hamzah among them, watched the group, which was joined by some of the locals, with extreme distaste. Smiling, Abdallah turned to Hamzah, the Young Tout, and Ahmad and said, cursing president and slogan-shouters alike, “A clever thief and a bunch of idiots.” The Young Tout told them that the group was from Downtown and that lots of other kids had demonstrated yesterday in the big square near there before the police chased them at a run all the way to El Wayli.
Hamzah, the Young Tout, and Ahmad tried to ignore what was happening but the cries grew louder and the group made its way around all parts of the depot shouting its slogans until, close to the Foreign Ministry, two lorries of riot police materialized out of nowhere. These the crowd confronted by breaking up the paving stones in front of the ministry, which they then threw at the riot police. Tear gas—an amazing invention unfamiliar to Hamzah and almost everyone else in the neighbourhood—started to descend on the street like rain. Hamzah, the Young Tout, and Ahmad, along with most of the rest of the locals, took to the side streets, though the burning gas couldn’t kill their curiosity as to what was going on. When, however, the neighbourhood’s electricity supply was abruptly cut off and the police chased the young people through the darkened alleys, it was time for Hamzah and his companions to ascend to their flats, avoiding thereby both the wrath of the police and the foolishness of the protesters.
The next morning Hamzah, busy repairing yet another arrogant customer’s car, learned that a new demonstration had started close to a luxury hotel not far away and that people had gathered, dividing up into groups according to their attitude as to what was being said regarding massive demonstrations to be held after Friday prayer the following day. Some were quite enthusiastic, some cursed both sides, and some, such as Hamzah, couldn’t care less. All, however, agreed in having grave doubts as to whether what was supposed to happen had any point, and whether it would in fact happen at all. When Hamzah went to the café in the evening, there were wide-spread rumours that some of the young people of the area had been arrested in the demonstrations that had made their way through the lanes and alleys the day before, even though the only connection between some of them and the events was that bad luck had placed them in the path of the battle. It was known where some of these were being kept, but others had disappeared, never to return. Hamzah listened to everything, puffing smoke from his nostrils and giving deep thought to the new price he would charge to repair the new arrogant customer’s car and wondering seriously whether he shouldn’t set the money aside as a start towards the purchase of the beloved Roumani jacket. At the end of the evening, the Young Tout brought him a bottle of fine wine that he’d filched from a new lady client, while Hamzah took on the task of rolling a couple of cigarettes with hashish, which at that period had become hard to come by. The Young Tout had then taken Ahmad to a barber he knew in a nearby district, where he made sure his friend had his hair cut in a fashion calculated to please foreigners in preparation for the anticipated morrow.
Hesitantly, the Young Tout told him that he was thinking of joining the demonstrations the next morning after the prayer, before going in the evening with Ahmad to the party at the foreign woman’s place, to which Hamzah replied with a weird snort of combined resolution and derision, and asked him how long it was since he’d last said a prayer anyway, and how could he go to prayers when his mouth had been unclean for the forty previous days. The Young Tout responded that none of that had any basis in religion, where he could find no mention of the forty days business, so the boss silenced him with another snort followed by a “Fuck that!” and asked how he could suddenly turn himself into a demonstrator and an expert on religion at one and the same time. The combined effect of the throaty voice, the dismissive exclamation, and the question all coming together in less than ten seconds was enough to close the door to any further discussion.
When Hamzah left him to go upstairs, where he mounted his wife for what seemed to his imagination hours, he wasn’t thinking of the jacket, or the demonstrations, or the impediments to acceptable prayer; all he could think of was the image of the talk-show hostess who looked like Soad Hosni, which he attempted, in vain, to superimpose on his wife. His wife, for her part, wondered whether this love-making, made messy by the effects of the hashish and the alcohol (which she had clearly smelled on her husband’s breath before he kissed her) would or would not result in a third baby, and whether any such pregnancy would be desirable now, given the arrival of the little one.
When he woke after Friday afternoon prayer coughing from the effect of the tear gas that had filtered into his room, it felt as though the Last Day had come. His wife told him the demonstrations had spread out from practically every major mosque in the ancient city and that raging youth had burst out into the broader streets cursing the president, and all who sailed in him, to hell and calling for the overthrow of the regime; and that the young people had attacked the nearby police station, just as they had many others around the city. Gas, fired from here and there, had choked them all and the streets had descended into chaos when the young people began attacking the near-by ministry. Informants and police had disappeared, along with their typical arrogance, and with them the thugs they were accustomed to use in elections, and when Hamzah went down to find out what was happening, he witnessed two young men from the neighbourhood rolling joints in the street without a care. He caught sight of Mr Taeemah, who had not abandoned his attempt to remain smartly turned out even in circumstances such as these, and asked him about the Young Tout. He answered that he didn’t know. In fact, no one knew the whereabouts of the Young Tout. Hamzah wondered if he had really joined the demonstrations or had slept in, like him, in anticipation of going with Ahmad Abd El-Raouf to the party with the foreign women. He tried to phone him but was surprised to find that the mobile network wasn’t working.
The loud sound of bullets reached them, coming from a square not far away, mixed with the slightly muffled sound of smoke bombs. Everything suddenly seemed to break into pieces and collapse, and equally suddenly Hamzah caught sight of his apprentice Lozah borne on the hands of others, among whom he made out Abdallah, the Depot shop owner. He was bleeding profusely.
At the district’s veterinary hospital, where some doctors were treating a number of injured people out of the goodness of their hearts and without authorization, Hamzah discovered that the lad had joined the demonstration at the nearby police station along with a group of other young men and fallen to police fire. His mother, Hamidah, who still retained some of the old attractiveness with which, as Hamzah recalled, she had once exercised his own father, was wailing at the entrance to the hospital, cursing Lozah’s begetters and those of all the other demonstrators and asking if they thought what was going on would put things right, or if Lozah had a father who, by virtue of his position as Prime Minister, could ensure that he avoided police bullets or would even give a damn about what was going on around him.
Hamzah was about to curse him out too, but when he saw him close-up, laid out on the trolley in the hospital entrance way, the pain on his pale face, the sweat eating away at him, and the blood-soaked bandages on his arm and feet silenced him for a while and caused him to pat the lad on the chest, for which Lozah gave him a grateful look—after which Hamzah, in spite of everything, immediately began cursing him out in a low voice. He heard a lot about what was happening from the locals, some of whom showed up as wounded, some as relatives of the wounded, and others simply as curious onlookers. One piece of information, however, caught his attention more than that of the army’s deployment next to the nearby ministry and the television building: people were attacking Arkadia and some from the neighbourhood were setting off, with the speed of rockets, either on their Chinese motorbikes or on expensive Vespas like his, in the direction of the luxurious building next to the Nile. The thought of the beautiful jacket, the Roumani of “burnt” brown hue with its brilliantly shining leather, its heart-shaped pockets, and the little strip around the collar, returned to fill his imagination. In that not far distant building the beloved lay, waiting.
It’s not hard to imagine what happened next. Hamzah ran to where his Vespa stood in the long entrance way to his building and joined an army of motorbikes setting off for the mall. Their riders spared not a thought for the revolutionary youth who were gathering around the television building or in the nearby square. They spared not a thought for the riot police who had divested themselves of their uniforms and were running through the streets or hiding in the entrances to buildings and they spared not a thought for the trucks of the Presidential Guard that were beginning to be deployed the length of the Nile-side esplanade. And, like everyone else, they spared not a thought for the decree of the aging, corrupt president establishing a curfew. They were on their way to the nearby Forbidden Land, where were milk and honey, electrical appliances, and other stuff.
Hamzah got to the mall, found much of it burning, smoke rising, and saw lots of people on their way out, carrying whatever they could, light or heavy. He stopped his Vespa close to the entrance alongside lots of motorbikes and ran inside like one possessed, fingering the flick knife in the pocket of his jeans. His intuition hadn’t failed him: in the midst of all those swarming ants, a particularly fierce battle was going on around a jewellery store whose window, like that of most of the shops in the mall, had been smashed. The bodies of those trying to get to the diamonds were piling up on top of one another, the most vicious and those with the strongest arms carrying them off.
Along with people whose faces he knew, he ran up the steps, while others, carrying anything they could carry—even leather chairs and wooden desks—passed them going down. Reaching the shop, whose window, like those of the others, had been broken, he pulled out his knife with a rapid, well-practised motion that dated back to his early days as a delinquent while looking everywhere for the beloved, eyes roaming the wrecked space and the people eagerly gathering up clothes. Eventually he found a last remaining jacket hanging from the rack that ran the length of the wall on his right and, waving his knife at a youth who was reaching for it, shouted at him in a thunderous voice to clear off. The youth shied away leaving the road open to him. Hamzah grabbed the jacket off its hanger and gazed at it: at last, the beloved was his, at last his left hand held smooth shiny leather while the elegant zipper tag dangled from the end of the jacket, jingling in way that thrilled his heart.
He was unable to restrain himself. Despite everything that was going on around him and the eyes that were undoubtedly trained on him, he ran to the changing room, closed the expensive wooden door behind him, and inserted into the jacket his right hand. This found its way down the sleeve, lined with soft cloth, holding the knife carefully so that it wouldn’t cut into the body of the jacket, and emerged at the other end as quickly as it could. Then he inserted his left hand into the left sleeve, pulling the jacket over his body, fastening the two parts of the zipper, and pulling it upwards. Straightening up, he looked at himself in the mirror to his right. He was a little disappointed that it was one size too large and therefore didn’t stretch tightly over his chest, but he didn’t let that get to him. At last, he had got the jacket.
He exited the shop as he had entered, at a run. Everyone around him was in a state of frenzy. This was the justice of heaven, meted out to those who were so full of themselves, those grand thieves whose money and bank accounts, the plump white women with whom they had sex, their posh clubs, the international schools where they put their cosseted children—the “pashas,” gods of the police stations, where they hung petty criminals or anyone else who had the bad luck to fall into their clutches by their heels while bending over to kiss the backsides of the grand criminals—had led them to forget, first, themselves and then those who lay at their feet, be they the destitute, or small-time thieves, or just dreamers who wanted life the way they watched it in the movies that came to them from the distant north. In the crowds, joy and cruelty walked side by side, an intoxication whose closest equivalent was the way he’d felt when he was having sex with Naimah on the roof, fearful of any unexpected visitor or sharp-eared neighbour. He ran outside, the adrenaline that filled his veins transmitting to his brain the image of a mighty wolf, a mighty wolf that had got what it wanted from the jungle of life, despite the dogs with which it was filled.
Then, as he exited the door of the mall and set off at a run towards where the motorbikes were parked, the terrible truth suddenly struck him. There was no sign of the Vespa.
“The Season of Migration to Arkadia” was previously translated and published into Dutch and Italian, and was chosen as one of the best 5 literary works dealt with the Egyptian revolution. This is its first time being published in English.
Humphrey Davies is an award-winning translator of some twenty works of modern Arabic literature, among them the novels of Elias Khoury. He has also edited and translated older works, most recently Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq’s seminal Leg Over Leg (1855; for the Library of Arabic Literature, NYU Press). He lives in Cairo.