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Being Abbas el Abd: A Modern Arabic Novel [Paperback]

Ahmed Alaidy

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Book Description

Oct. 15 2009 American University in Cairo Press
What is madness? Asks the narrator of Ahmed Alaidy's jittery, funny, and angry novel. Assuring readers that they are about to find out, the narrator takes us on a journey through the insanity of present-day Cairo - in and out of minibuses, malls, and crash pads, navigating the city's pinball machine of social life with tolerable efficiency. But lurking under the rocks in his grouchy, chain-smoking, pharmaceutically-oriented, twenty-something life are characters like his elusive psychiatrist uncle with a disturbing interest in phobias. And then there's Abbas, the narrator's best friend who surfaces at critical moments to drive our hero into uncontrollably multiplying difficulties. For instance, there's the ticklish situation with the simultaneous blind-dates Abbas has set up for him on different levels of a coffee-shop in a Cairo mall with two girls both called Hind. With friends like Abbas, what paranoiac needs enemies?

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (Oct. 15 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9774163095
  • ISBN-13: 978-9774163098
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.4 x 1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 113 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,557,602 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"The millennial generation's most celebrated literary achievement." - Al-Ahram Weekly "The first glimmer of hope for a true fictional renaissance - an instantly rewarding read embraced by an unprecedented range of literary figures" - The Daily Star" --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Humphrey Davies earned his doctorate in Near Eastern Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. He is the translator of Thebes at War by Naguib Mahfouz (AUC Press 2003) and The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany (AUC Press 2004).

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Psychotic in Cairo Jan. 20 2013
By Geoffrey Fox - Published on
In a Cairo circa 2003, inhabited entirely by 20-somethings, the narrator -- who may or may not be named Abdullah -- gets into terrible jams and awkward situations thanks to a slovenly roommate named Abbas el Abd, who is either a demonic trickster or a psychotic projection of the narrator himself. Who knows? He certainly doesn't. But in his confusions and anger you get a taste of the consumer anxieties, frustrations -- sexual and also of national pride -- and daily humiliations by those in authority that were a large part of what the masses in Tahrir Square in January of this year (2011) were protesting against, especially the younger ones, and that is a good reason to read this short, chaotic novel. Here's a sample of some of the daily frustrations that might drive a young Cairene nuts:

«Abbas says the utilities shaft of the apartment block is the only place where a man can read the papers in the morning when his wife grudgingly shuts up so as to able to listen to the neighbors quarreling. Episode 7009 of the sitcom "Life," starring my neighbor and his esteemed wife.
Click. The Nine O'Clock News. A quick shot: in the market place in Jerusalem an Israeli conscript kicks an old woman in the stomach, and Jaffa oranges fall from her hands and are squashed beneath the huge boots.»

Translator Humphrey Davies has done a complex, acrobatic job rendering Alaidy's mix of classical and colloquial Arabic and newly-minted expressions grabbed from English (al-boyyi frind, for example). His note at the end of the book is well worth reading to put this little book in context.
4.0 out of 5 stars Modern Madness April 27 2014
By RKT - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a taut, dizzying portrayal of madness. It's personal, psychological madness. But it's also the madness of a lost Egyptian generation. Lacking economic possibilities and disillusioned by bankrupt ideologies--both local and foreign--this is the generation that Abbas el Abd himself calls the "I've-got-nothing-left-to-lose" generation. With a series of twists, turns, and confusions, the reader feels a piece of the soul crushing one must encounter in a modern world that seems to offer so many promises--that pulses, swirls, and shines with seemingly endless possibilities--but whose dazzle is really just a maze of funhouse mirror distortions.

I read the book twice before I felt I was able to put the complex pieces of this story together. But at roughly 130 pages, the second read was hardly time consuming. And it was well worth it. My only regret is that I am unable to read the book in it's original Arabic. After reading the translator's note, it is clear that some of the subtlety and layering has been lost in the shift between languages.

Still, if you enjoy postmodern, psychologically-driven literature, if you're interested in a compelling glimpse into Egypt's "Tahrir Square" generation--or perhaps both--I highly recommend *Being Abbas el Abd".
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unlike anything else, except for maybe some things Oct. 30 2006
By J. R. Westcott - Published on
I highly recommend this new novel out of Cairo. Written by an Iowa Writers Center graduate and so dedicated to his mentor there Chuck Palahniuk, it is a cubist portrait of a mind losing its way--set in the cafe culture of modern Egypt. Dizzying and long-lasting.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Odd book July 21 2013
By Jonathan Charnes - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you do not understand what is going on in the Arab world, and even if you do...This book is kinda odd.

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