The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

حمدي ابو جليل/Hamdi Abu Gulail

I read on the Literary Saloon a while back that Hamdi Abu Gulail's new book الفاعل won the Naguib Mahfouz Award from AUC. The good people at the Saloon also did some complaining over the lack of information about the award and the various and unpredictable spellings of Abu Gulail's name. Their "plea for uniform transliteration," which I completely support, is however unlikely to be answered anytime soon. 

I'd be curious if there is a consistent transliteration system from other non-European languages that have their own different script, like Chinese. When it comes to Arabic, even within academia there seems to be no single consistent system. And everyone else pretty much wings it, like I did in the title for this post. 

But back to Abu Gulail. I just finished the previous book by this young Bedouin author, لصوص متقاعدون ("Retired Thieves", available from University of Syracuse), and was very pleasantly surprised. It's sort of unstructured (mostly it's the observations of a tenant in a building in the slum of Manshiat Nasr about his neighbors, and in particular his landlord's semi-criminal family) but there are some very funny, well-observed vignettes and a real originality to the voice and the plot. Abu Gulail makes his protagonist a young Bedouin new to the city, and I'd say one of the book's strengths is how well he captures the latent menace and manipulation in many Egyptian social relations, and the importance of the boundaries between "insiders" and "outsiders."

I don't know anything about Abu Gulail's latest and award-winning novel (I don't even know how to translate the title: The Doer? The Agent? The Subject?) except that it is currently being translated for AUC Press by our old friend and Arabist extraordinaire Robin Moger. Keep an eye out for it.