The labourer

My review of Hamdi Abu Golayyel's newly translated novel just came out in The Review.

A Dog with No Tail is his second book, after Thieves in Retirement, and it won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature last year, given out by AUC Press (part of the award is to be translated and published by the press).

Abu Golayyel emigrated to Cairo from his Bedouin village in the early 80s, and worked in construction. This experience informs the book and inspired its original Arabic title, as I note:

Yet in the years spent lugging sacks of cement, smashing walls, pouring foundations and sleeping in empty buildings at night – building the residences of others without a home to call his own – Abu Golayyel found both material and metaphor. The novel’s resonant title in Arabic, Al Fa’il, is derived from the verb “to do”. It means “the doer”, “the actor” or, used as an adjective, “the efficacious, efficient”. In a grammatical sense, it means “the subject” – but in common parlance the world simply means “the labourer”. The English title is derived from a quip in the story, and works well enough. But the original Arabic title is particularly fitting for a book about the unstable edifice that is identity and the constant act of construction that is writing.

The novel was translated by our good old friend, and one-time member of the Arabist household, Robin Moger. Mr. Moger did an above-par job, his translation is a pleasure to read, and I expect we'll see more from him soon.


Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.