A review of
by Sonallah Ibrahim
In 1998, Sonallah Ibrahim reportedly feigned illness to avoid receiving Egypt’s best-novel prize. In 2000, he quietly turned down the American University in Cairo’s Naguib Mahfouz Medal. But in 2003, when offered the Egyptian government’s prestigious Novelist of the Year award, Ibrahim could no longer keep his silence. The sixty-six-year-old author took the stage and ended his brief speech by saying he would not accept a literary prize from “a government that, in my opinion, does not possess the credibility to grant it.” He left the prize and walked out.
Sonallah Ibrahim has spent a lifetime clipping newspaper articles, quietly defying regimes, and writing clear, unsentimental fiction that is at times absurdist and at times difficult to distinguish from daily Cairo realities. His latest novel, Al Talassus—which could be Eavesdropping or Sneaking, but is translated by Hosam Aboul-Ela as Stealth—is perhaps Ibrahim’s least overtly political work.
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—M. Lynx Qualey