Half-crazy in Cairo

Being Abbas El Abd (Modern Arabic Literature)Being Abbas El Abd by Ahmed Alaidy

In a Cairo circa 2003, inhabited entirely by 20-somethings, the narrator — who may or may not be named Abdullah — gets into terrible jams and awkward situations thanks to a slovenly roommate named Abbas el Abd, who is either a demonic trickster or a psychotic projection of the narrator himself. Who knows? He certainly doesn't. But in his confusions and anger you get a taste of the consumer anxieties, frustrations — sexual and also of national pride — and daily humiliations by those in authority that were a large part of what the masses in Tahrir Square in January of this year (2011) were protesting against, especially the younger ones, and that is a good reason to read this short, chaotic novel. Here's a sample of some of the daily frustrations that might drive a young Cairene nuts:
Abbas says the utilities shaft of the apartment block is the only place where a man can read the papers in the morning when his wife grudgingly shuts up so as to able to listen to the neighbors quarreling. Episode 7009 of the sitcom "Life," starring my neighbor and his esteemed wife.

Click. The Nine O'Clock News. A quick shot: in the market place in Jerusalem an Israeli conscript kicks an old woman in the stomach, and Jaffa oranges fall from her hands and are squashed beneath the huge boots.
Translator Humphrey Davies has done a complex, acrobatic job rendering Alaidy's mix of classical and colloquial Arabic and newly-minted expressions grabbed from English (al-boyyi frind, for example). His note at the end of the book is well worth reading to put this little book in context.

View all my reviews

No comments: