Friendly Fire: Stories Paperback – Aug 27 2009
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“Al Aswany masterfully deciphers the forces behind social polarization over class, gender, race, religion, and politics, tracking the pendulum swings from sympathy to hate, dream to despair, sorrow to resignation, and refusing simple answers and tidy conclusions.” (Booklist)
“A startling first collection, elegant yet pointedly sharp-tongued and sarcastic…. Al Aswany is an insightful student of the human condition whose trenchant characters evoke a weird hybrid of Albert Camus and Charles Bukowski; the strange landscape depicted is at once painful and playful, rich in meaning and understatement.” (Library Journal)
“At times al-Aswany’s stories are heartbreaking, at times they are uncomfortable, at times hilarious, but no matter what the mood, his work is always steeped in the greywater of humanity.” (Virginia Quarterly Review)
From the Back Cover
Alaa Al Aswany has won resounding critical acclaim for his deft and moving portrayals of the lives of contemporary Egyptians who constantly examine their relationship with Egypt's history, religion, class, and gender distinctions. In Friendly Fire he once again demonstrates an extraordinary empathy for lost and searching souls as he focuses on the exquisite emotions of everyday life.
In "The Kitchen Boy" and "Dearest Sister Makarim," Al Aswany explores the hypocrisy of the class divide. The brief and tender "Izzat Amin Iskandar" is a heartrending view of youthful hope. And in the unforgettable novella "The Isam Abd el-Ati Papers," the narrator carries us along a troubling journey through his painful relationships with his artist father and his self-centered mother, en route to a devastating collision of temptation and morality.
Here are stories of generational conflict, love, repression, and the clash of Western and Arab ideals, all beautifully rendered by a true modern master.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
He explains the history of the book, mainly his first story - 'The Isam Abd el-Ati Papers' and why it was not published at his first try. His 219 page book, Friendly Fire consists of short stories, the first 92 pages long, the other 16 much shorter. He is a good writer, but one can see why the Egyptian authorities would not publish his writing; it expresses no virtue of the country or its' people - one has to remind themselves of his admonishing in the preface that he loves his country and his literature possesses an independent existence from his thinking.
So, in summary be prepared for a book with stories that rail on the subject of human kind, not the worst of society but the everyday foibles and failings of the inhabitants of modern Egypt, but they could exist anywhere -the teasing of schoolmates, the difficulties and obstacles of achieving one's life dreams.
Each story is a tale of woe and wretched luck. Each story leaves much of what will finally happen to your imagination, much as life is. This is not just about Egypt but the state of anger and frustration in humankind - well written but frustrating to me in that there seemed to be no optimism or closure. So read if you are interested a different style and a critically acclaimed contemporary Egyptian writer.
I came to this after reading the author's Yacoubian Building (2002), which impressed as a window into the lives and values of contemporary Egyptians in Cairo. For me, Friendly Fire was a lesser work but contained some interesting things also.
As with Yacoubian, the writer focused all around society in Cairo, finding dysfunction nearly everywhere. Human potential was stifled continually by bureaucracy, corruption, envy and the struggle to survive. The need to cater to the whims of all-powerful superiors in the workplace led to humiliation. The lack of control over their lives turned children and adults into beasts. People sacrificed themselves to better the lives of family members, or prostituted themselves to foreigners for money. Behaving badly, some masked their behavior with florid phrases of religious piety.
Devotion to family members -- especially mothers and children -- offered some the strongest motivation to keep struggling. But mostly the problems conspired to keep people apart and drove sensitive souls to the edge. The contrast was strong between past hope -- before 1952 -- and present disappointment. Unlike Yacoubian, there were few positives, no optimism and no way out. In some ways, the writing covered territory similar to that of VS Naipaul on Islam and on the Third World, and seemed to share much of that writer's outlook.
For this reader, the strongest stories were "The Kitchen Boy," "An Administrative Order," "Mme Zitta Mendès, a Last Image," "Dearest Sister Makarim," "An Old Blue Dress and a Close-Fitting Covering for the Head, Brightly Covered" and "Waiting for the Leader." "An Old Blue Dress" contrasted the behavior of a genuinely pious woman who lived an outwardly sordid life -- sacrificing herself for her family -- with a woman who observed religious conventions but was calculating and grasping.
The "Leader" story was especially damning, with old, disillusioned politicos waiting for the ghost of a former leader to appear and lead them out of the dead end, while one dreamed of material reward and summering in Europe with his wife. The dead man had advocated constitution and democracy, but maybe the leaders and masses of the present were unready. Another story offered glimpses of how the newly rich behaved, with a trophy wife from Europe, foreign-language education for the offspring, marble statues of Venus in the courtyard and Roman numerals carved into the door.
Too many of the other stories seemed underdeveloped, with weak or abrupt endings. Missing was writing from women's points of view or a focus on the behavior of religious leaders -- things that had been present in Yacoubian.
The novella began well, with a narrator's forceful denunciation of national traits, but lost momentum quickly as he descended into confused memories of a parent, student life and lost love, with little apparent sense of form -- again unlike Yacoubian. It ended in a mental hospital. Maybe this novella, the opening work, was intended partly as a summary of the themes touched on in many of the stories that followed.
A work covering somewhat similar ground was Taxi (2006), by Khaled Alkhamissi, which recorded the frustrations of taxi drivers struggling to make a living in Cairo. A more modest creation, it at least offered some humor against all the darkness. A contrast to Friendly Fire was View of a Distant Minaret and Other Stories (1983) by Alifa Rifaat, an older writer, who showed Egyptian women coping with their lives, finding quiet strength in themselves and their faith.