Words Without Borders: The Egypt Issue

The January issue of Words Without Borders is now available, and the focus this month is literature from Egypt. Fiction, non-fiction and poetry by Hamdi Abu Golayyel, Mahmoud Al Wardani, Na’am Al-Baz, Haggag Hassan Oddoul, Salwa Bakr, Mohamed Makhzangi, Tamer Fathy and Iman Mersal.

Here is the opening to Hamdi Abu Golayyel’s “The Veiler of All Deeds,” an excerpt from his forthcoming novel, Thieves in Retirement, which will be published by Syracuse University Press later this year.

People are delighted—in the normal course of events—when they hear the news that a pious man has been caught red-handed mired in some wrongful act, whether a sin divinely prohibited, a scandalous act undermining the gravity and might of his religiosity, or an error that strips from him the cloak of infallibility to expose him as an ordinary person who doesn’t carry the halo of sainthood after all. Perhaps they react this way because his commitment to virtue has been wounding their consciences, perhaps it’s a question of seeking psychological equilibrium. It’s a relief to be able to rely on the sins of a man who appears close to God in coming to terms with their own sins which they suspect are quite appalling, and they can think optimistically about committing other wrongs that are no less atrocious. Or maybe it’s because people generally find it hard to put up with individuals who lay it on thick when it comes to virtue and commitment–their own as well as what they advise others to acquire.

Like Alaa Al-Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building, the characters in Thieves in Retirement all inhabit the same apartment building, thus providing the author with a convenient cross-section of society.

The guest editor for this special issue of Words Without Borders is none other than Chip Rossetti, of the American University in Cairo Press. Read his introduction here.

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