Egyptian novelist Doha Assy received the prestigious International Literary Olympus Award from the League of Writers of Eurasia, a body that gathers together many literary unions operating in European and Asian countries.
Awarded for her significant contribution to the development of the contemporary literary process and artistic authority of creativity, Assy is an Egyptian writer, translator, and a specialist in the Russian language and folk art of the East.
Assy was given the award (accompanied by a diploma of recognition and golden medal) by Nina Popova, advisor to the chairperson of the Union of Writers of Russia, during the International Literary Festival 'Chekhov Autumn – 2019,' organised this year between 21 and 24 October in Yalta, Russia. Assy served as the vice-chairman of the jury during the same literary event. Assy is also the first Egyptian novelist to receive such an award.
She has also held a seminar and book-signing of her collection of short stories Saadet Supermarket (The Highness of Supermarket) translated to Russian by Mona Khalil. The book-related events took place at the Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow as well as in Yalta's White Villa of Checkov, which used to be the property of the late renowned Russian playwright and short story writer.
L-R: Anderi Chernov, head of Chekhov Autumn Festival, Egyptian novelist Doha Assy, Nina Popova, Advisor to the Chairperson of the Union of Writers of Russia during the ceremony awarding Assy with Int'l Literary Olympus Award from the League of Writers of Eurasia (Photo: courtesy of Doha Assy)
Speaking to Ahram Online, Assy expressed how happy and at the same time surprised she was with the award.
"As a writer, I do not expect awards, yet receiving one is very humbling, especially when it comes from Russia, which holds a special place in my heart," Assy said, recalling her studies in Moscow.
Throughout the past three decades, Assy's connection with Russia was limited, as such, the book translation followed by an award, in addition to the positive reaction of Russian readers and critics, filled the novelist with unique emotions. "It is amazing how life leads you and brings surprises all way through. The whole experience is very heart warming."
Assy added that "as I read parts of my short stories in Chekhov's home [being the first Egyptian writer to do so] it all felt so surreal. The literary and cultural importance of the place made me feel very happy and honoured."
The Highness of Supermarket is a collection of stories with themes revolving around ordinary Egyptian people.
Doha Assy during the book-signing of The Highness of Supermarket in Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow (Photo: courtesy of Doha Assy)
In it we find a story titled Performance, about an employee and his feeling of victory as he brings food from the supermarket for his family. Another story revolves around the concept of freedom – also the story's title – presented through a family's connection with Luji, a housecat.
Death Has a Different Taste takes us to the reality of young Egyptian people emigrating from the country in illegal ways, often reaching a fatal end. Another story, Beauty of Our Sun (the title drawn from a well-known Egyptian song), depicts a young girl whose independence brings her criticism from society. As she opposes tradition, she pays the price by not being able to build a family of her own.
"During the book reading and discussion, several of the Russian readers expressed how similar our societal problems are, regardless of the geographical and cultural differences. At the end of the day, we all experience the same worries, we have the same dreams and hopes, and the same disappointments," Assy revealed.
The Highness of Supermarket was published by Merit Publishing House in 2009. One of the stories from the collection, Beauty of Our Sun, was chosen by Egypt's Supreme Council of Culture (operating under the Ministry of Culture) to be included in the three-volume publication of 100 short stories written by Egyptian writers between 1922 and 2009. The same short story has also become a part of the academic curriculum of Literary Department at Cairo University and at the American University in Cairo.
Assy has also published Fengan Ahwa (A Cup of Coffee, 2007) short stories, Mubarak's Trial as Witnessed by Sayeda Nafisa (2012) which is a research work with fictional elements in the socio-political sphere, and a novel titled Cairo 104 (2016), a book that repositioned Assy in Egypt's literary scene. Cairo 104 is now in the process of translation to three languages: Russian, German and French.
Assy's new novel Ghoyoum Ferenseya (French Gloom) is about to be published in the coming weeks.
Doha Assy during the presentation of The Highness of Supermarket in Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow. On the right Igor Sidorenko, Cultural Manager of Russian Institute for Literary Translation. (Photo: courtesy of Doha Assy)
Doha Assy during her presentation of The Highness of Supermarket at the Yalta's White Villa of Russian playwright and short story writer Anton Checkov. On the left former director of the White Villa. (Photo: courtesy of Doha Assy)