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Friday, 06 December 2019

Book Review: Of literature, history, politics and what brings them together

As 2019 draws to a close, Ahram Online’s Books section is reviewing some of this year’s well-received titles

Dina Ezzat , Saturday 30 Nov 2019
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The Late Radwa Ashour
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Likol Al-Maqhourine Agneha (“All the Oppressed Have Wings), by Radwa Ashour, Cairo: Al- Shorouk, 2019

It is exactly five years to the day since Radwa Ashour passed away, on 30 November 2014. Ashour was a professor of English literature and a prominent Egyptian novelist with a passion for history and a firm association with the Palestinian cause.

This year, Al-Shorouk, Ashour’s long-time publisher, chose to share with her dedicated readers a collection of articles and talks that the author wrote or gave during the last decade of her life.

The subtitle of the book, Al-Oustaza Tatakalam (“The Professor Speaks”), might indicate that the 300-plus pages of the book offer Ashour’s impersonal critique of issues of literature and politics. However, like every manuscript of Ashour’s, the book is certainly about very personal and heartfelt – at times even heartbreaking – thoughts that the author has about the things she felt the most passion for: literature, history and politics.

True, the book is not a single unit, despite a disciplined order that divides it into six thematic sections. After all, the book was not the design of the inspiring author. However, the book offers the reader Ashour’s detailed reflections on matters of passion for the author – matters of the individual identity and of collective memory, which are perhaps the two dominating elements in Ashour’s literary production and of her political ideology and discourse.

Inevitably, Ashour was not an author who would ever separate literature from politics or the former two from resistance to cultural colonisation or territorial occupation.

After all, she was convinced that literary production was meant to be an author’s contribution to the liberation of society. She thought that a novelist was ultimately a storyteller who should not oversee the stories of history.

But Ashour admits that her passion for history is just unstoppable and that her interest in reading and studying the memoirs of political prisoners was paramount.

Ultimately, Ashour’s novel on the beginning and perpetuation of the Palestinian diaspora, Al-Tantouriya, is an act of literary solidification of the collective memory of Palestinian history.

Likol Al-Maqhourine Aguneha is also an opportunity for the reader to learn about the deep dismay of the author, a professor of English literature and criticism at Ain Shams University, about the status quo of education and educational institutions in Egypt. In Egyptian universities and curricula, Ashour found neither the place nor the capacity for the furthering of knowledge.

The book allows Ashour’s readers to learn more about thoughts and observations on the 2011 Revolution, which she wanted so much to be present for, had it not been for her ill-health.

They will also learn about her profiling of some of the motivating literary and political figures that she crossed paths with.

Although technically a collection of articles, the book ultimately feels more like a kind of testimony of a few miles of an otherwise long journey that Ashour made with the passion of a lover, the devotion of a Buddhist priest and the curiosity an eternally young soul.

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