Last fall people in Beirut decided to honor the memory of Georges Schehadeh, a Lebanese poet and playwright who was born and raised in a Lebanese family in Alexandria, and who came to Lebanon when he was in his very early 20s.
I’m not sure whether I’ve been a success or a failure at being a father.
In truth, my circumstances have not made it possible for me to delve thoroughly into this topic. I went into hiding as soon as my daughter was born, and I was arrested before she was four years old. I spent the first five years of my detention with no access to news and no visits. In spite of all that, I feel that I am a father to the point of tears.
When I visited Cairo for the first time and entered the alleys of the of Al Husayn district and Khan Al Khalili, I was overwhelmed with familiarity for the place. It wasn’t a feeling that I had been there once before, but rather as if I knew the details of its daily life. For many years, Naguib Mahfouz’s writings have been my guide to Egypt’s intimate places and formed, for me, burning memories of the streets of Cairo.
Since before “The Trilogy,” that is, since the “New Cairo” (1945), “Khan al-Khalili” (1946), “Ziqaq al-Midaqq” (Midaq Alley) (1947) and others, Naguib Mahfouz has been the most influential fiction author that I have read. I was astonished by the questions he raised and the possibilities he presented in his characters and in the profound events they lived through. I was also amazed at the changes in his characters’ worlds throughout the different periods of his novelistic journey.
Ghada Samman is a prolific writer who has produced over 40 works in a variety of genres, including journalism, poetry, short stories, and the novel. Outspoken, innovative, and provocative, Samman is a highly respected if sometimes controversial writer in the Arab world who is becoming increasingly well known internationally; several of her works have been translated from Arabic into languages such as English, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Polish, German, Japanese, and Farsi.
Journalists who cover war are often accused of being “adrenaline junkies,” parachuting into conflict zones as they chase their next high, bouncing from one global hot spot to another. Depicted as heartless voyeurs, they aim their cold zoom lenses at the faces of suffering humanity. Their saving grace is that they alone can capture images capable of shocking an indifferent world into responding.
In 1862, five Russian musicians in St. Petersburg (Borodin, Cui, Balakirev, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov) formed the “Gang of Five,” a group whose aim was to create authentically Russian music as opposed to the prevalent Western style championed by Tchaikovsky. A century later, five Lebanese musicians modeled themselves after the Russian group and formed their own “Gang of Five” with the mission of creating authentically Lebanese music.
Heads nodded in agreement, but the mood was somber. Halim Barakat had just kicked off a two-day conference on the Arab novel by noting that more than 100 Arabic novels had been translated into English. Alas, he said, they were seldom reviewed in literary journals, nor could you easily find them in your neighborhood bookstore.
In 1959, Naguib Mahfouz published his controversial novel " Awlad Haratina " (Children of Our Alley) on the pages of the Egyptian daily paper Al Ahram. This work represented a clear departure from the historical and realistic modes that dominated Mahfouz's earlier work until the completion of his "Trilogy" on the eve of the 1952 revolution in Egypt . " Awlad Haratina " came after seven years of literary silence most uncharacteristic of the disciplined and prolific Mahfouz.
Even in his early writings, which were mainly poems, Issam Mahfouz used to “create a sublime and penetrating theater of dialogue,” says Lebanese poet Shawqi abi-Shaqra about his friend. It is a disservice to Mahfouz to sum up his contributions in generalities. This creative artist made his unique and visionary contributions in different fields: first, in modern poetry; then in theater, where his basic and most notable contributions lie, as well as in literary studies, criticism, and research.