In his 30s, Ahmed Samir is considered one of the most influential figures of his generation. Mostly read online, Samir had during the years following the January revolution made an impression through his style of commentary that has often made news read like fiction.
His columns and profiles have been published in the online editions of leading independent dailies. Widely followed sites have featured his compiled notes on the January revolution and its aftermath, leading up to the first election of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in the summer of 2014. A selection of these articles appeared in two books that were published in 2015 and 2016, respectively, by Dar El-Shorouk.
Earlier this year, Dar El-Shorouk printed Samir’s first novel, Close to Joy. “To get close to joy, or even too close to joy is still not good enough; it simply means that you have not reached your end,” Samir wrote in the blurb to his own book.
“This is precisely the story of a generation – across the board. It does not matter if one is secular, Islamist, liberal or conservative; at the end of the day, everyone tried and many thought they were getting there but effectively, nobody made it,” Samir said in an interview with Ahram Online this week.
Close to Joy may come across as an effective autobiography of Wael, who was born in the middle class neighbourhood of Sayyeda Zeinab, attended Cairo University where he ever so briefly joined the Muslim Brotherhood before turning ferociously against them. He then pursued journalism and then joined the 18 days of Tahrir Squre protests to end the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak. In June 2013, he also joined demonstrations to end the rule of Mohamed Morsi.
“I am not Wael, even if there seems to be some outer resemblance between his path and my path, and this novel is not the story of Wael, even if he comes across as the leading character. It is rather the story of 35 people who were there in the socio-political build-up leading to January and who had down the road become too obsessed with their own views of things that they all lost their tolerance and compassion – even a part of their humane selves,” Samir explained. “This is the story of broken dreams, not necessarily or uniquely in the political sense; it is also a jigsaw puzzle that you need to put together to be able to see a relatively comprehensive picture of a generation who tried to fulfill its dream but failed to,” he added.
The structure of Samir’s novel is based on the accounts of the 35 men and women “who tried to come close to joy,” as he writes on the first page of his novel. They share their experiences of their early 20s to early and mid 30s, giving reflections on their interest and disinterest in politics, love, sex and wealth.
In a way, Samir said, this structure allows the reader to read some but not all accounts. “But then again you would have just assembled a part of the picture and not the entire picture. I am not proposing that this novel offers the full and uncensored story of our generation, but at least it does offer a relatively comprehensive picture,” he added.
Samir agrees that, in essence, his most recent work belongs to the genre of political fiction. “I would just rather say it is an alternative mode of expression given that direct political commentary has become a bit déja vu and a bit too difficult to share,” he said. However, he insisted that Close to Joy is more about “the influence of politics on people in a very day-to-day way." In the story Wael and his wife divorce over differences on the political path she supported despite their shared rejection of the Islamists.
This sense of confusion that is clearly reflected in Close to Joy is one reason Samir thinks his novel was a success. “It reflects the mood and the senses of a generation. I am not sure that many of us have final and very defined positions on everything that has been unfolding since the January revolution. We are still contemplating things and we are still revisiting things and we are still trying to actually get at our destination rather than just getting too near but never actually there,” he said.
What would it take for this generation to get there? Is the dream still there, hanging somewhere or has it been coerced by unending social and political developments? Answered Samir “It is not clear. I guess dreams don’t just go away but I am not sure if this very generation still has what it takes to reach its objective. Maybe, one day. I couldn’t really say."