Soha Hesham , Tuesday 14 Jun 2022


Playing house

Mohamed Alnaas, Khobz Ala Tawelat Al-Khal Milad (Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table), Masciliana Editions. pp357

The young Libyan novelist Mohamed Alnaas’s debut, Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table – the winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) this year – is set in an insular village where the protagonist, Milad, and his wife Zeinab exchange gender roles. Milad thinks he is embodying masculinity as he takes charge of the household, letting Zeinab be the breadwinner, only to discover that he is being mocked by his fellow villagers... The book is a brave attempt to question gender.

Mohamed Alnaas is a fiction writer and journalist from Libya, born in 1991. He earned a BA in electrical engineering from the University of Tripoli in 2014, and his short story collection Blue Blood was published in 2020. He wrote Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table (2021) in just six months during the Coronavirus lockdown while Tripoli was being bombarded. He says writing the book was his “refuge from insanity”. Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table was published with support from the Libyan Arete Foundation.

Khaled Mansour, Haql Algham (Mine Field), Al-Mahrousa Publishing House, 2021. pp283

This is the first novel by Egyptian researcher Khaled Mansour, a detailed portrait of Egyptian mental health and its labyrinths. It is told through the eyes of a human rights researcher named Khalil Al-Marakbi, who returns from New York after working in different countries in Latin American and Asia with the aim of solving the mystery of his old friend Farid Ezzat’s death. After being accused of murdering the head of one of the mental institutes in Cairo, Ezzat seems to have been killed. Khalil himself suffers depressive episodes and sleep disorders, dreaming of his dead friend. Soon after his return he meets with his old flame, the journalist Sanaa Al-Garem, to whom he reveals his terrible experiences as a former mental patient.
Khaled Mansour studied engineering at Mansoura University but has worked in journalism since 1990, and has 30 years’ experience in the human rights field. He spent 13 years at the UN and in 2013 returned to Cairo where he was appointed executive director of Egypt’s leading human rights organisation, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. Since 2015 he has been an independent writer and professor on humanitarian aid and human rights. He has degrees in archaeology, sociology and international relations as well as engineering, and has published four books and numerous articles and papers. His most recent book, From Taliban to Taliban, draws on his first-hand experience of Afghanistan in 2000-2002.


Hamdi Abu Golayyel, The Men Who Swallowed the Sun, Hoopoe (AUC Press), 2022. pp194

Originally published in Arabic in 2018 by Merit Publishing House under the title Qiyam wa Inhiyar Aal Saad Sheen, this book was translated by the late Humphrey Davies before he passed away in 2021. It traces the life paths of two Bedouin cousins from the Western Desert who belong to the category invented by the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and referred to by the letters saad and sheen. They aim to flee to Europe but only one manages to reach Milan, Italy while the other ends up in Sabha, Libya. A gripping story of illegal immigration that brings in Gaddafi’s never-realised scheme of melding the Bedouins of Egypt and Libya into a “great state” he referred to as Saad-Sheen.
Hamdi Abu Golayyel is an Egyptian writer and journalist born to a Bedouin clan in Fayoum in 1967. He has published numerous short story collections and novels like including Thieves in Retirement and A Dog with No Tail, which was awarded the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2008. He is the editor-in-chief of the General Egyptian Book Organisation’s Popular Studies book series, which specialises in folklore research.