Ayman Ragab Taher, Al-Qaht (The Drought), Cairo: Kayan Publishing House, 2019, pp321
Awarded the State Incentive Award in 2016, this novel is set during the Fatimid era, during the seven-year reign of Al-Mustansir Billah, the eighth Fatimid caliph, when drought caused widespread hardship and horror.
Um Al-Hassan is carefully cooking small amounts of food and watches her ten-year-old son Hassan walking out of the bathroom, warning him against using too much water, while she awaits her husband Maymoun’s return from his paper store. When she realises he won’t be coming for lunch she decides to send him his food with Hassan. Their Coptic neighbours next door are preparing for their daughter’s wedding as Um Beshir informs her, with her worry over the disappearance of her son Beshir in Alexandria showing on her face. Starvation begins to spread.
The streets smell unbearable due to dead bodies, the plague hits, and bread is more expensive than gold. When a once rich woman decides to open her box of jewellery and sell one of her gold necklaces, nobody wants to buy it. It takes her a long time to obtain 1000 dinars for it, with which she manages to buy some flour, most of which is snatched away from her on her way home. Soon after she shows up outside the caliph’s residence with a lump of bread which she waves about, saying it cost her 1000 dinars.