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Monday, 21 October 2019

INTERVIEW: Al-Karma publisher Seif Salmawy talks about new favourites at CIBF

For Salmawy, this year's Cairo International Book Fair proved a success, both for his publishing house and his own library, as he picked up sought-after titles

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 14 Feb 2019
Books
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For Seif Salmawy, the 2019 Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF) “was great." "The organisation was excellent and so were the sales for the most part,” he said.

Salmawy said that publishers this year offered a wide selection of titles for young adults, a lot of fiction, as usual, and a new — even if timid — presence of non-fiction titles.

Al-Karma, Salmawy's publishing house, was founded in 2013 and has been taking part in CIBF since. This year, Salmawy said, “has been quite a good experience in terms of displaying books in a way that was functional. It was done in a way that attracted the right audience for everyone.”

“One thing I noticed was that publishers are becoming more attentive to the nature of Egypt’s demography where young adults are really a majority to be reckoned with,” Salmawy said.

Attention to young adult reading preferences has been a growing trend in Egypt for the past few years. Some publishers and writers have refered to a "post-January Revolution" approach gaining ground.

Salmawy, however, is of the opinion that even prior to 2011 there was an effort by the publishing industry in Egypt to provide books that would appeal to young adults as well as elders.

An example for Salmawy are the books of Ahmed Khaled Tawfik, who passed away last year.

This year, prior to CIBF, Al-Karma issued Tawfik’s most recent collection of short stories, “Graveyard Celebrations” (Afrah El-Maqbarah). In a sequel of nine short stories, Tawfik begs existential questions typical to his work on the meaning of right and wrong, and life and death, - camouflaged as usual as page turning horror and thriller stories.
.
Tawfik’s last title figured third on Al-Karma’s list of best sellers for this year’s CIBF.

Featuring fourth on the same list is “Bitter like coffee, Sweet like chocolate” (Mor mithl Al-Qahwa, Helwa mith Al-Chcocolat), by young author, Mirna ElHelbawy.
Her debut novel is a soul-searching/romance/travel book.

“It is the kind of a novel that would appeal to people from the age of 16 to the age of 50, so it is not a typically young adult title, or rather not strictly,” Salmawy said.

For the same age range, this year AlKarma issued Omar Taher’s first novel, “Kohl and Cardmom” (Kohl we Habahan). Taher’s earlier 20 books, including “Egypt’s Artisans” (Saniyait Masr) and “Songs Radio” (Izaat El-Aghani) have sold well, also issued by Al-Karma.

“Typical of Omar Taher, his take on things is always very different,” Salmawy says. “Kohl we Habahan was very well received. It topped the list of our best sellers for the book fair this year,” he said.

Coming as a close second on the list of Al-Karma’s best sellers this year is Ibrahim Eissa’s second volume of his literary take on the early wars in Islam.

“Wars of the Merciful Figures” (Horoub El-Rohamae) is a sequel to “The Journey of Blood: The First Assassins” (Horoub El-Dam - Al-Qatallah Al-Awaeil) that came out two years ago.

The final part of the trilogy is expected to come out in two years, according to Salmawy.

“This is one of Eissa’s most laborious and interesting projects: to write three literary sequels of a very controversial historic base,” Salmawy said.

He added that Eissa’s novels are “in fact a very realistic and vivid literary take on the history of these years as documented in several acknowledged Sunni references.”

They are about the early Muslim power squabbles and wars.

“One can read the history books, of course, but then again reading a novel is perhaps more engaging for some, especially that it is not just a very well researched novel, but also very gripping,” Salmawy said.

On Al-Karma’s best sellers in the non-fiction genre are titles like “The Margins of Al-Makrizi: Stories from Egypt” (Hawmesh El-Makrizi – Hekayat min Masr), a reprint of a book that journalist/writer Salah Eissa published three decades ago. The book is a collection of historical stories covering Egypt’s Mamlouk years to the eve of the 1919 Revolution.

Book
Hawamesh Al Maqrizi front cover

“We did not think of this book as a contribution to commemorate the centennial of the 1919 Revolution; we just thought of this is a valuable book about interesting events that are still worth reading today. Those were originally articles that Salah Eissa had published in Al-Gomhouriyah daily,” Salmawy said.

The book is featuring at number five of Al-Karma’s list of best sellers.

Another bestseller for Al-Karma this year is “Born” (Al-Mouloudah). Nadia Kamel’s literary biography of her late mother that was published last year received the Sawiras Cultural Award for the best novel.

According to Salmawy, there is “always a keen interest for engaging biographies. People like to learn and read about people."

Within the personal vista are popular books of letters. For the book fair this year, Al-Karma issued the second volume of letters by late prominent film director Mohamed Khan to his friend, cinematographer Sa’eid ElShimy.

Khan’s name is associated with some of the best films in Egyptian cinema from the 1970s to the early 2000s. His last film, “Before the Summer Crowds” (Qabl Zahmet Al Seif), came out in 2015.

In 2018, Al-Karma published the first volume of letters.

Book
Intessar Lil Cinema front cover

“The two volumes offer an incredible insight not just into the life of Khan, but into the film industry as a whole a few decades back. They reflect the lives of people in general, and youth in particular, in these years between 1959 and 1973, which were loaded with so many emotions, creativity and ideas,” Salmawy said.

Filmmaking appears to be a particular passion of Salmawy’s. One of the books he was keen to buy in this year’s book fair is “How to Watch a Movie” by prominent cinema critic Mahmoud Abdel Shakour.

In the book, the author takes his readers through the details of 100 scenes from some of Egypt’s most watched movies. reflecting on the sentiments and ideas each director tries to project into the viewer through the use of lighting, colour and close-ups.

“I thought that this was a must-read because Mahmoud Abdel Shakour is one of the best cinema critics of our times and he has the ability to analyze and explain the most complicated scenes and films,” Salmawy said.

Other books on the shopping list of Salmawy included the Arabic Booker shortlisted novel of Europe-based Iraqi novelist Inaam Kachachai, “The Outcast” (Al-Nabizah), Sudanese novelist Hamour Zeyadh’s “Drowning” (Al-Gharak) and Khaled El-Khamisi’s novel "Al-Shamandar".

Book
Gharaq front cover

For Salmawy, these are three novelists who have never failed to impress him with their previous works.

Then there is also “Be Brave This Time” (Kon Shogaan hazeih El-Mara), the latest volume of poetry by Ibrahim Dawoud, that Salmawy bought from the fair this year.
“Ibrahim Dawoud is a very unique poet. It is not just the style of his poetry but also the way he reflects on himself vis-a-vis everything around him that is both emotional and intriguing.”

For Seif Salmawy, the 2019 Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF) “was great “The organisation was excellent and so were the sales for the most part,” he said.

Salmawy said that publishers this year offered a wide selection of titles for young adults, a lot of fiction, as usual, and a new — even if timid — presence of non-fiction titles.

Al-Karma, Salmawy's publishing house, was founded in 2013 and has been taking part in CIBF since. This year, Salmawy said, “has been quite a good experience in terms of displaying books in a way that was functional. It was done in a way that attracted the right audience for everyone.”

“One thing I noticed was that publishers are becoming more attentive to the nature of Egypt’s demography where young adults are really a majority to be reckoned with,” Salmawy said.

Attention to young adult reading preferences has been a growing trend in Egypt for the past few years. Some publishers and writers have refered to a "post-January Revolution" approach gaining ground.

Salmawy, however, is of the opinion that even prior to 2011 there was an effort by the publishing industry in Egypt to provide books that would appeal to young adults as well as elders.

An example for Salmawy are the books of Ahmed Khaled Tawfik, who passed away last year.

This year, prior to CIBF, Al-Karma issued Tawfik’s most recent collection of short stories, “Graveyard Celebrations” (Afrah El-Maqbarah). In a sequel of nine short stories, Tawfik begs existential questions typical to his work on the meaning of right and wrong, and life and death, - camouflaged as usual as page turning horror and thriller stories.
.
Tawfik’s last title figured third on Al-Karma’s list of best sellers for this year’s CIBF.

Featuring fourth on the same list is “Bitter like coffee, Sweet like chocolate” (Mor mithl Al-Qahwa, Helwa mith Al-Chcocolat), by young author, Mirna ElHelbawy.

Her debut novel is a soul-searching/romance/travel book.

 “It is the kind of a novel that would appeal to people from the age of 16 to the age of 50, so it is not a typically young adult title, or rather not strictly,” Salmawy said.

For the same age range, this year AlKarma issued Omar Taher’s first novel, “Kohl and Cardmom” (Kohl we Habahan). Taher’s earlier 20 books, including “Egypt’s Artisans” (Saniyait Masr) and “Songs Radio” (Izaat El-Aghani) have sold well, also issued by Al-Karma.

“Typical of Omar Taher, his take on things is always very different,” Salmawy says. “Kohl we Habahan was very well received. It topped the list of our best sellers for the book fair this year,” he said.

Coming as a close second on the list of Al-Karma’s best sellers this year is Ibrahim Eissa’s second volume of his literary take on the early wars in Islam.

“Wars of the Merciful Figures” (Horoub El-Rohamae) is a sequel to “The Journey of Blood: The First Assassins” (Horoub El-Dam - Al-Qatallah Al-Awaeil) that came out two years ago.

The final part of the trilogy is expected to come out in two years, according to Salmawy.

“This is one of Eissa’s most laborious and interesting projects: to write three literary sequels of a very controversial historic base,” Salmawy said.

He added that Eissa’s novels are “in fact a very realistic and vivid literary take on the history of these years as documented in several acknowledged Sunni references.”

They are about the early Muslim power squabbles and wars.

“One can read the history books, of course, but then again reading a novel is perhaps more engaging for some, especially that it is not just a very well researched novel, but also very gripping,” Salmawy said.

On Al-Karma’s best sellers in the non-fiction genre are titles like “The Margins of Al-Makrizi: Stories from Egypt” (Hawmesh El-Makrizi – Hekayat min Masr), a reprint of a book that journalist/writer Salah Eissa published three decades ago. The book is a collection of historical stories covering Egypt’s Mamlouk years to the eve of the 1919 Revolution.

“We did not think of this book as a contribution to commemorate the centennial of the 1919 Revolution; we just thought of this is a valuable book about interesting events that are still worth reading today. Those were originally articles that Salah Eissa had published in Al-Gomhouriyah daily,” Salmawy said.

The book is featuring at number five of Al-Karma’s list of best sellers.

Another bestseller for Al-Karma this year is “Born” (Al-Mouloudah). Nadia Kamel’s literary biography of her late mother that was published last year received the Sawiras Cultural Award for the best novel.

According to Salmawy, there is “always a keen interest for engaging biographies. People like to learn and read about people."

Within the personal vista are popular books of letters. For the book fair this year, Al-Karma issued the second volume of letters by late prominent film director Mohamed Khan to his friend, cinematographer Sa’eid ElShimy.

Khan’s name is associated with some of the best films in Egyptian cinema from the 1970s to the early 2000s. His last film, “Before the Summer Crowds” (Qabl Zahmet Al Seif), came out in 2015..

In 2018, Al-Karma published the first volume of letters.

“The two volumes offer an incredible insight not just into the life of Khan, but into the film industry as a whole a few decades back. They reflect the lives of people in general, and youth in particular, in these years between 1959 and 1973, which were loaded with so many emotions, creativity and ideas,” Salmawy said.

Filmmaking appears to be a particular passion of Salmawy’s. One of the books he was keen to buy in this year’s book fair is “How to Watch a Movie” by prominent cinema critic Mahmoud Abdel Shakour.

In the book, the author takes his readers through the details of 100 scenes from some of Egypt’s most watched movies. reflecting on the sentiments and ideas each director tries to project into the viewer through the use of lighting, colour and close-ups.

“I thought that this was a must-read because Mahmoud Abdel Shakour is one of the best cinema critics of our times and he has the ability to analyze and explain the most complicated scenes and films,” Salmawy said.

Other books on the shopping list of Salmawy included the Arabic Booker shortlisted novel of Europe-based Iraqi novelist Inaam Kachachai, “The Outcast” (Al-Nabizah), Sudanese novelist Hamour Zeyadh’s “Drowning” (Al-Gharak) and Khaled El-Khamisi’s novel "Al-Shamandar".

For Salmawy, these are three novelists who have never failed to impress him with their previous works.

Then there is also “Be Brave This Time” (Kon Shogaan hazeih El-Mara), the latest volume of poetry by Ibrahim Dawoud, that Salmawy bought from the fair this year.

“Ibrahim Dawoud is a very unique poet. It is not just the style of his poetry but also the way he reflects on himself vis-a-vis everything around him that is both emotional and intriguing.”
 

 

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