53rd Cairo International Book Fair: The colours of the world

Soha Hesham , Thursday 3 Feb 2022

Al-Ahram Weekly shares some of the highlights of the 53rd Cairo International Book Fair.

Cairo International Book Fair

The Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF, 26 January-7 February) launched its activities last Thursday under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture. Located at the International Exhibition Centre (EIEC) in New Cairo, the gigantic facility that now includes five (previously four) halls, it brings together 1063 publishers from 51 countries, with Greece as guest of honour, under the slogan “Egypt’s Identity: Culture and the Question of the Future”.

Among the activities of the CIBF, on 29 January Al-Shorouk Publishing House launched Mansoura Ez-Eldin’s latest novel, Atlas Al-Khafaa (Disappearance Atlas), a kind of character study of a single protagonist, Mourad, whose experience interweaves realism and fantasy and features a varied cast of supporting characters. Ez-Eldin is an Egyptian novelist born in 1976 whose work has earned her numerous accolades and awards. Her novels include Waraa Al-Ferdaws (Beyond Paradise, 2009, which was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction - IPAF) and Basatin Al-Basra (Orchards of Basra, 2020, on the IPAF long list). She is the deputy editor-in-chief of the cultural weekly Akhbar Al-Adab.

Also published by Al-Shorouk, Nora Nagy’s collection of short stories Methl Al-Aflam Al-Sazega (Like the Naïve Films) is her first following four novels: Bana (2015), Al-Jidar (The Wall, 2016), Banat Al-Basha (The Pasha’s Daughters, 2017) and Atyaf Camillia (Camillia’s Shadows, 2019). In this collection of short stories, Nagy’s mostly nameless characters play out dramas of fear and heartache, tracing life trajectories pitted against patriarchy.

An Egyptian-Lebanese Publishing House publication, novelist, playwright and critic Hatem Hafez’s 15th book, Gayed Bema Yakfi (Good Enough) centres on a romantic novel writer who just turned 100 and lives in fear of dying alone. His memory plays tricks on him, but can he  use it to overcome his loneliness? Hafez’s last novel was Qitta Taabour Al-Tariq (A Cat Crosses the Street, 2021).

The book fair offers a huge variety of poetry collections, including the exceptional book Walakinna Qalbi: Mutanabbi Al-Alfiya Al-Thalitha (And Yet My Heart: Third Millennium Mutanabbi), by poet and novelist Youssef Rakha. Published by Al-Tanwir Publishing House, it includes 20 poems and a personal essay accompanied by illustrations by Walid Taher.  

Born in 1983, the calligrapher and writer Mahmoud Atef has published a second poetry collection, Ala Hafet Al-Allam (On the Edge of the World), with the General Egyptian Book Organisation (GEBO). The book deploys elements of nature – the sun, the night, the sea – in an attempt to overcome the pain of human and social interactions. cross to a more peaceful side in life.

The last day of the book fair will feature a joint book signing at Al-Balad Bookstore in Downtown of Walakinna Qalbi: Mutanabbi Al-Alfiya Al-Thalitha (And Yet My Heart: Third Millennium Mutanabbi) by Youssef Rakha and Ala Hafet Al-Allam (On the Edge of the World) by Mahmoud Atef.

Another poetry offering, Gihan Omar’s Hina Aradtu Aan Unqidh Al-Alam (When I Wanted to Save the World), published by Al-Maraya Publishing House. With 30 autobiographical poems, the 112-page book a long section on water and the sea, “Don’t Return the Fish into the Sea”,  with one poem featuring the explicit details of a drowning dedicated to her late friend Galal Al-Moghazi. The CIBF has featured readings by Omar.

One of the more controversial publications this year is a translation of Albert Camus’s The Stranger (1942) into Egyptian Arabic by Hiktor Fahmy, accompanied by illustrations by Makhlouf. Published by Houn for Publishing, it is the first book of its kind to be published in dialect, and has generated much debate as a result.

Another offering in the field of translation is author Mina Nagy’s translation of the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s Against the Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles, endorsed by Žižek himself and published by Al-Maraya Publishing House.

This year at the CIBF, Al-Karma Publishing House republished five novels by the late novelist Khairy Shalaby: Al-Arawy (Buttonholes), Neinaa Al-Ganayen (The Garden’s Mint), Batn Al-Baqara (The Cow’s Belly), Manamat Aam Ahmed Al-Samak (Dreams of Amm Ahmed the Fisherman) and Mawwal Al-Bayat wal Noum (Ballad of Shelter and Sleep).

Nahdet Misr, for its part, republished the complete works of the late, seminal writer Yahya Haqqi (1905-1992), CIBF’s personality of the year. GEBO has also republished the complete works of the late novelist Gamal Al-Ghitani (1945-2015).

Al-Kotob Khan is reissuing Egyptian poet Iman Mersal’s last poetry collection, Hatta Atakhalla Aan Fekret Al-Beyout (Until I Abandon the Idea of Homes), first published in 2013, and Lebanese novelist Hoda Barakat’s autobiography Rasael Al-Ghariba (The Stranger’s Letters, 2004). But perhaps this year’s highlight is Diwan’s edition of the poetry collection Kalby Al-Harem… Kalbi Al-Habib (My Old Dog… My Beloved Dog) by the late poet and Nineties Generation icon Osama Al-Dinasouri (1960-2007), first published in 2007. It is an account of his lifelong struggle with illness.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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