Where are the playboys?

Robert Irwin

  • Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi
    Columbia, 1056 pp, £40.00, June 2005, ISBN 0 231 13254 9

Gamal Abdul Nasser was inspired in his youth by ‘Awdat al-ruh (literally ‘Return of the Spirit’), a novel by one of the grand figures in Egyptian literature, Tawfiq al-Hakim (1898-1987). Published in 1933, it chronicles the tribulations of the urban poor and ends on a triumphant note, with the nationalist demonstrations of 1919. In its simple way it was an inspiring document written in days of hope, before cynicism and despair found their way into Arab fiction. The fervently patriotic ‘Awdat al-ruh was in a sense a foundation document for the Egyptian Republic that was established after the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952. Disillusion with Nasser’s regime soon followed. That disillusion was given voice in such novels as Naguib Mahfouz’s gloomy Miramar (1967), in which the various characters staying in a hotel comment on the failure of Arab socialism to deliver on its promises.

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