Cossery in Al-Jadid
I've made no secret in the past that I'm a huge fan of the late Egyptian writer Albert Cossery — who wrote in French and lived most of his life in France but whose works are obsessed with the Egyptian mezzeg. Al-Jadid, the literary review, has a fine essay on him:
Born in Cairo in 1913 to bourgeois parents of Syrian origins, Cossery was educated in French schools in Egypt, and was introduced to the classic—Balzac, Dostoevsky, Baudelaire, Nietzsche and Stendhal—by his older brothers. In his early 20s, he became involved in an art collective by the name of Art et Liberte, which defined itself by its allegiance to the Surrealist movement, as well as by its opposition to the Third Reich’s condemnation of Expressionist art. After a good deal of travel, he moved to Paris in 1940 – motivated in part by a desire to see the Second World War in the flesh. He lived first in Montmartre, and then, after the war ended, in Saint-Germain des Pres, where he passed the rest of his life in one room on the 5th floor of the Hotel de Louisiane. Cossery thrived in the intellectual climate of Paris, of which Saint-Germain was then the epicenter; he knew Sartre, Camus, Durrell, Henry Miller, Giacometti, Tzara, Vian and Genet, amongst others. He was not as productive a writer as his colleagues were, delivering on average only one slim novel for every decade of his life (“only imbeciles write every day” he once said in a French television interview), but each book is carefully crafted in a French that is at once masterful, concise and trenchant in its humor.