Four Arab works on the List Muse's top 100 novels of all time

Ahram Online, Wednesday 25 Sep 2013

The List Muse's selection of the 100 best works of fiction, includes Mahfouz' 'The Cairo Trilogy', Elias Khoury's 'Gate of the Sun', Ibrahim Abdel Meguid's 'No One Sleeps in Alexandria' and Khaled Khalifa's 'In Praise of Hatred'

The four writers
Khaled Khalifa, Elias Khoury, Ibrahim Abdel Meguid and Naguib Mahfouz

This year’s List Muse -- a selection of the top 100 novels of all time -- includes The Cairo Trilogy by Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz, Gate of the Sun by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury, No One Sleeps in Alexandria by Egyptian novelist Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid and, finally, In Praise of Hatred by Syrian author Khaled Khalifa.

Through its website, theList List Muse evaluates submissions contributed by readers to create a contemporary list favouring novels with an international flavour, while paying respect to the classics.

The list features other great works of fiction such as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, George Orwell's 1984, James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man, Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time and Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace.

Below is a short synopsis of each of the four novels, as described on the “List Muse” website:

The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz (11 Dec 1911 - 30 August 2006)
The Nobel Prize-winning writer’s masterwork is the engrossing story of a Muslim family in Cairo during Britain’s occupation of Egypt in the early decades of the twentieth century.

The novels of The Cairo Trilogy trace three generations of the family of tyrannical patriarch El-Sayed Ahmed Abdel-Jawwad, who rules his household with a strict hand while living a secret life of self-indulgence. Palace Walk introduces us to his gentle, oppressed wife, Amina, his cloistered daughters, Aisha and Khadija, and his three sons -- the tragic and idealistic Fahmy, the dissolute hedonist Yasin, and the soul-searching intellectual Kamal. Al-Sayed Ahmed’s rebellious children struggle to move beyond his domination in Palace of Desire, as the world around them opens to the currents of modernity and political and domestic turmoil brought by the 1920s. Sugar Street brings Mahfouz’s vivid tapestry of an evolving Egypt to a dramatic climax as the aging patriarch sees one grandson become a Communist, one a Muslim fundamentalist, and one the lover of a powerful politician.

Throughout the trilogy, the family’s trials mirror those of their turbulent country during the years spanning the two world wars, as change comes to a society that has resisted it for centuries. Filled with compelling drama, earthy humour, and remarkable insight, The Cairo Trilogy is the achievement of a master storyteller.

Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury (born 1948, Beirut)
Drawing on the stories he gathered from refugee camps over the course of many years, Elias Khoury's epic novel Gate of the Sun has been called the first magnum opus of the Palestinian saga.

Yunes, an aging Palestinian freedom fighter, lies in a coma. Keeping vigil at the old man's bedside is his spiritual son, Khalil, who nurses Yunes, refusing to admit that his hero may never regain consciousness. Like a modern-day Scheherazade, Khalil relates the story of Palestinian exile while also recalling Yunes' own extraordinary life and his love for his wife, whom he meets secretly over the years at Bab Al-Shams, the Gate of the Sun.

No One Sleeps in Alexandria by Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid (born 1946, Alexandria)
This sweeping novel depicts the intertwined lives of an assortment of Egyptians -- Muslims and Copts, northerners and southerners, men and women -- as they begin to settle in Egypt's great second city, and explores how the Second World War, starting in supposedly faraway Europe, comes crashing down on them, affecting their lives in fateful ways. Central to the novel is the story of a striking friendship between Sheikh Magd El-Din, a devout Muslim with peasant roots in northern Egypt, and Dimyan, a Copt with roots in southern Egypt, in their journey of survival and self-discovery.

Woven around this narrative are the stories of other characters, in the city, in the villages, or in the faraway desert, closer to the fields of combat. And then there is the story of Alexandria itself, as written by history, as experienced by its denizens, and as touched by the war. Throughout, the author captures the cadences of everyday life in the Alexandria of the early 1940s, and boldly explores the often delicate question of religious differences in depth and on more than one level. No One Sleeps in Alexandria adds an authentically Egyptian vision of Alexandria to the many literary -- but mainly Western -- Alexandrias we know already: it may be the same space in which Cavafy, Forster, and Durrell move but it is certainly not the same world.

In Praise of Hatred by Khaled Khalifa (born 1964, Aleppo)
1980s Syria, our young narrator is living a secluded life behind the veil in the vast and perfumed house of her grandparents in Aleppo. Her three aunts, Maryam the pious one; Safaa, the liberal; and the free-spirited Marwa, bring her up with the aid of their ever-devoted blind servant. Soon the high walls of the family home are unable to protect her from the social and political changes outside.

Witnessing the crackdowns of the ruling dictatorship against Muslims, she is filled with hatred for her oppressors, and becomes increasingly fundamentalist. In the footsteps of her beloved uncle Bakr, she takes on the party, launching herself into a fight for her religion, her country, and ultimately, her own future. On a backdrop of real-life events that occurred during the Syrian regime's ruthless suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s, In Praise of Hatred is a stirring, sensual story. Its elegant use of traditional, layered storytelling is a powerful echo of the modern-day tragedy that is now taking place in the Middle East.


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