Culture links: Al Aswany and Darwish

The Complete Review takes a look at Alaa Al Aswany's Friendly Fire (just out in English) and finds that:

Al Aswany's writing is generally tighter and more consistent in these smaller, more concentrated efforts -- perhaps because he doesn't have to force bridges between episodes and takes the freedom to only write what needs be written. Yet the much greater scale and reach of his novels, and his free-wheeling mix of stories in them is a great part of their appeal, and while the stories collected in Friendly Fire are well done, the sum of them does not have nearly the power of, especially, a novel such as The Yacoubian Building.

(I've actually heard from a good many people now that they prefer these short stories to The Yacoubian Building, and definitely to the generally panned Chicago).

A lovely poem by Mahmoud Darwish. And an excellent piece at The Review on the relationship between Darwish's early, politically engagé poems, and his later, more inward-looking work. Robyn Creswell (who wrote a fine piece for Harper's on Darwish a while back) notes that:

It is difficult for the English reader to appreciate, for example, the extent to which Darwish’s late poetry is a complex mode of self-criticism. Darwish was always his own severest judge. He never allowed any one style, however successful, to harden into a method. His final lyrics are very distinct from the plainspoken, confrontational poetry that made him a celebrity while he was still in his early twenties. They are also distinct from the poetry he wrote in Beirut during the Civil War, or during the first Intifada, or the long foundering and bitter aftermath of the Oslo Accords. Indeed, Darwish’s late poetry is in an important sense a reaction against his earlier work, an attempt to escape the prisons of his former personae.

As the piece mentions, much of Darwish's work is available in English now.

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The justifications of the torturer

Alaa al-Aswany in the Los Angeles Times:
"As President Obama prepares for his trip to Egypt this week, the Mubarak regime is facing unprecedented waves of social protest because life here has become intolerable for millions of Egyptians, who now have no choice but to take to the streets to proclaim their demand for a life fit for humans. Today, between 40% and 50% of Egyptians live below the poverty line; Egypt has become two different countries -- one for the poor and one for the rich. As for the regime, it is now completely incapable of serious reform, so it pushes the police to confront, repress and torture people, overlooking the simple and important fact that police officers are, first and foremost, Egyptian citizens and that what applies to Egyptians in general applies to them too. Most of them suffer in the same way as other Egyptians. I often recall the discussion I had with the State Security officer at the wedding. And I reflect that a political system that relies for its survival on repression always fails to see that the apparatus of repression, however mighty it may be, must be operated by individuals who are part of society and whose interests and opinions generally conform with those of the rest of the population. As repression increases, a day will come when those individuals can no longer justify to themselves the crimes they are committing against people. At that point the regime will lose its power to repress and will meet the fate it deserves. I believe that we in Egypt are approaching that day. "
The story opened with a meeting with a State Security officer whom he confronts about working for the regime. It's worth reading in its entirety.
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