Books: Egypt's new releases

Soha Hesham , Tuesday 12 Jan 2021

Nadia Lotfi
Nadia Lotfi

Thus spoke a legend

Ayman Al-Hakim, Esmi Paula: Nadia Lotfi Tahki (My Name is Paula: Nadia Lotfi Recounts), Cairo: Nahdet Misr Publishing House, 2021, pp385


With bold swathes of red and blue framing a bright and beautiful portrait, the cover of screen icon Nadia Lotfi’s memoirs is appropriately inviting. In this book the late actress, who passed away in February 2020, simply recounts her life journey starting from the moment of her birth at the Italian Hospital in Cairo on 3 January 1937, a cold winter night following New Year celebrations that left decorations still hanging in the streets. The delivery was not easy. While the mother was in agonising labour, the father waited despondently outside. At one point a sister nurse came and spoke to him, helping him maintain a positive attitude. The name of that nurse, Paula, became the newborn’s even though it was both Christian and foreign which may have presented the Upper Egyptian Muslim father, Mohamed Shafik, with a problem. The book  includes photos of Paula as a child alone and with her family.

Lotfi vaguely remembers her first house in Downtown in her early years, before leaving for a small villa in Heliopolis with a small garden where she learned to love animals: cats, dogs and rabbits. She was an only child, so they became her companions. Eventually she also grew close to horses.

She joined the German school in Cairo, where in addition to other languages she learned Polish. This qualified her for escorting a Polish actors’ delegation in Cairo, something for which she became a celebrity for some time. The photos of her published in magazines and newspapers drew attention to her beauty, and they were the source of the rumour – current, incidentally, to the day she died – that her mother was Polish. In 1953 she left the German school, but two of her classmates, Enayat Al-Zayyat and Wafaa Al-Zoheiry, would remain her closest friends.

Her favourite names on the other hand were Laila and Nadia, and she was inspired by  the heroine of Ihsan Abdel-Quddous’s novel La Anam (Sleepless), Nadia Lotfi, especially when producer-director Ramses Naguib offered her a lead in his film Sultan and she had to defy her father’s refusal that she should become an actress. He was a liberal man but this was too much for him. When Naguib suggested that she should pick a stage name that was both Arab and simpler than Paula Shafik, it was an easy choice. She was coached by the great actors Abdel-Wareth Assar, Fakher Fakher and the voice professional Madame Ratl,

She met Youssef Chahine at a dinner party where he offered her a ride home. On the way, she recalls, she learned some of the fundamental lessons in her life as an actress. He offered her a role in his film Hob ila Al-Abad (Forever Love, 1960), which was her second film. She had appeared in 13 films when she rejoined Chahine for his historical landmark Al-Nasser Salaheddine three years later.

Her fourth film was Amalekat Al-Behar (Sea Giants), about the Tripartite Aggression against Egypt, featuring the story of the Syrian war hero Jol Jamal who joined the Egyptian military as a marine officer and died in the battle. In real life Jamal had been her husband Adel Al-Beshary’s colleague. On the occasion of Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s historic visit to Syria during the Egyptian-Syrian union, a delegation of Egyptian celebrities organised appearances and concerts in major Syrian cities where Lotfi was astonished at how well-known she turned out to be.

One of her favourite actors to work witn and a close friend of hers was Ahmed Mazhar, opposite whom she appeared in a numerous films including Amalekat Al-Behar (Sea Giants, 1960), directed by Al-Sayed Bedier, Ma’a Al-Zekrayat (With the Memories, 1961), directed by Saad Arafa, Sera’ Al-Gababera (Struggle of Giants, 1962), directed by Zoheir Bakir, Al-Nasser Salaheddine (1963), directed by Youssef Chahine, and Al-Nadhara Al-Sawdaa (Black Glasses, 1963), directed by Hossameddine Mustafa.

Her stardom took another turn when she joined Abdel-Halim Hafez in Al-Khattaya (The Sin, 1962), directed by Hassan Al-Imam. Lotfi recalls her first encounter with Abdel-Halim on board the ship that was heading to Syria with the Egyptian celebrity delegation accompanying Nasser on his visit. She didn’t really know Abdel-Halim was at that time and she wasn’t paying any attention to him; her favourite singer at that time was Shokoko. When she starred opposite Abdel-Halim, she admired his dedication and attention to detail.

Lotfi seems to have felt that she belonged to a new generation of actresses emerging through the July revolution. She recalls that Egyptian cinema was in search of a  rebellious, cultured and courageous generation of actors, and that generation brought  forth, among many others, the late Soad Hosni, alongside whom she starred in Al-Saba’ Banat (Seven Girls, 1961), directed by Atef Salem and Lel Regal Faqat (Only for Men, 1964), directed by Mahmoud Zulfakar. Lotfi chooses to speak of Hosni at length, dealing with the audience’s impression that they were in competition with each other. They were not, Lotfi argues. They had different strengths and neither was threatened by the other. Lotfi also gives testimony about Hosni’s alleged marriage to Abdel-Halim, saying that they were in love at some point in their lives but were probably  never married, this testimony left Lotfi in a place that she had to say it and defend two of her closest friends. She starred with Hosni in the film Al-Saba’ Banat (Seven Girls, 1961), directed by Atef Salem and then they collaborated again in the film Lel Regal Faqat (Only for Men, 1964), directed by Mahmoud Zulfakar.

Lotfi also had a remarkable relationship with the great filmmaker Shady Abdel-Salam, with whom she collaborated on Guyoush Al-Shams (Armies of the Sun, 1973), a documentary on the October War, as well as his classic landmark  The Night of Counting the Years (1969). They grew close. Abdel-Salam designed the interior of Lotfi’s house and wrote her a huge number of letters, some of which hang beautifully framed on her walls.  

In the second chapter of Lotfi’s memoirs, named “The Intellectuals and I”, Lotfi recalls her childhood friend Enayat Al-Zayat, whose suicide left her in agony. She mentions her alongside such famous writers as , Youssef Idris, Tawfik Al-Hakim, Anis Mansour, Yehia Al-Taher Abdallah and Abdel-Rahman Al-Abnoudy.



Ahmed Al-Deeb, Hekayat Baad Al-Noum (Wakeup Stories), Al-Shorouk Publishing House, 2020, pp114

Originally published in 2014 by Madarat, this collection of short stories introduced by the acclaimed author Mohamed Al-Makhzangi draws heavily on its author’s dreams. Shaping his dreams into coherent, symbolic tales, Al-Deeb deals with such themes as the meaning of life and the connection between beauty and power.

The Alexandrian writer Ahmed Al-Deeb, a pharmacist by training, worked as a science journalist and technical translator before becoming a librarian at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Wakeup Stories is his first book.


Haitham Dabour, Salib Moussa (Moses Cross), Al-Shorouk Publishing House, 2020, pp344

Ahmed Bahie is a professional photographer and a former photojournalist currently busy with his own workshops, through which he teaches photography. He organises trips that can boost the experience – including one to Saint Catherine where, as the first few pages show, the Greek monk Pavlos, the librarian of the Saint Catherine monastery, is seen running in the cold facing Mount Moses where the prophet received the ten commandments. One cold night in December, Bahie is summoned to an investigation of the killing of Pavlos. With the help of a Bedouin  Ibn Omran and some of the monastery’s rare manuscripts, Bahie unveils information that explains the monk’s death. with the help of some of the rare transcripts in the monastery they unveil some of the dangerous secrets that might help in the mystery death of the monk that was depicted thoroughly in the first few pages of the novel of how the monk ran in the freezing cold facing the Mount Moses, that witnessed when Moses received the ten commandments from God.  

Haitham Dabbour is an Egyptian journalist, screenwriter and author. He joined Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper and made numerous documentaries like Tahrir Square: The Good, The Bad, and the Politician, his fiction debut as a screenwriter being Photocopy (2017), which received the Best Arab Feature award at El Gouna Film Festival (GFF). In 2018, he wrote the screenplay of Eyar Nari (Gunshot), which premiered at GFF and was screened at the Cairo International Film Festival. He also produced and wrote the the short film Matelash Aal Hageb (Eyebrows), which won the best short film award at GFF in 2018.


Bahia Shehab & Haytham Nawar, A History of Arab Graphic Design, AUC Press, 2020, pp360

This book traces every step on the path of graphic design in the Arab world, starting with the sources of inspiration for Arab design before 1900, including the pioneers and the vital events. It delves into the work of over 80 iconic designers from all over the Arab world, reaching the end of the 20th century, and covering territory that begins with Islamic art and calligraphy and ends with the digital era and the internet. The book features over 600 colour images of the work of major designers. In the chapter covering 1960-1969, “Arab Design and the Palestinian Resistance”, it covers the work of designer Abd Al-Ghani Abul-Enein (1929-1998) who attended the Royal School for the Development of Arabic Calligraphy and later became one of the most unorthodox editorial designers, creating Rose Al-Yusuf’s design philosophy. It is accompanied by magazine covers that demonstrate just how much of a tool guide for graphic designers the book is.

Bahia Shehab is an artist, designer, art historian, professor of the practice of design and founder of the graphic design program at the American University in Cairo. Her work has received a number of international awards like TED Senior Fellowship, a Prince Claus Award, and the UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture. She previously published A Thousand Times NO: The Visual History of Lam-Alif in 2010. Haytham Nawar is a designer and artist who chairs the department of arts at the American University in Cairo and is the founding artistic director of Cairotronica, a festival of electronic and new media art in Cairo. His work has been appeared in local and international exhibitions and his research area of interest is design history and practices focusing on the Arab world and Africa.



Ahmed Wael, Tarbiyet Haywanat Motkhayala (Raising Fictional Animals), Al-Mahrousa Publishing House, 2020, pp130

This is a collection of 14 short stories, some of which focus on the life of novelists and journalists. In the first, for example, a literary group seeks to monopolize newspapers and literary platforms. In the title story, a young man rediscovers his grandfather, a writer who never stopped writing even though his publishing career came to a quick and abrupt end. In “The Spider Plan”, a newspaper illustrator who on becoming a father seeks to renew his connection with Cairo by creating an illustrated map of Greater Cairo that works like a mechanical watch.

Ahmed Wael is an Egyptian journalist and writer. His first and only novel Lesbo appeared in 2008.


*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.


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