Synopses & Reviews
Set in the turbulent years before the 1952 revolution that would overthrow King Farouk and bring Gamal Abdel Nasser to power, -- by Sonallah Ibrahim, one of Egypt's most respected and uncompromising novelists -- is a gripping story seen through the eyes of an eleven-year-old boy. A young Egyptian's coming of age proves halting and uncertain as he fails to outgrow dependence on his aging father and tries to come to terms with the absence of his mother. Through the boy's memories, fantasies, and blunt observations, we experience his attempts at furtively spying on the world of Egyptian adults. His adventures portray a Cairo full of movie stars, royalty, revolutionaries, and ordinary people trying to survive in the decaying city.
"In this novel, first published in Egypt in 2007, Ibrahim (That Smell) offers a gripping and coolly mesmerizing account of a young boy's growing awareness of the adult world. Written in his trademark telegraphic realism, the novel brings into being mid-20th-century Cairo: 'Old doors and stone benches in front of tiny shops. Smells of mud, decay, and axle grease.' The novel is narrated by an 11-year-old boy living with his father, Khalil Bey, and struggling to make sense of their existence together since his mother's death. Interspersed amid the main text are italicized sentences presenting the boy's memories of his parents, such as, 'My father teaches mother to play poker.' The book is driven by a slow, affectless layering of details of Egyptian life prior to Nasser's 1952 revolution, rather than by plot development. The different aspects of life touched on include air raid sirens during WWII, budding sexuality, and political discontentment. The young narrator's voice conveys the unnerving detachment of limited understanding, giving the same weight to mundane moments like the lighting of a cigarette as it does to an attempted rape witnessed by the boy. Ibrahim's achievement is that he has convincingly reanimated a vanished Cairo and conveyed the wonder and tragedy of youth. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A young son wanders Cairo trying to comprehend why his mother has disappeared
About the Author
Born in Cairo in 1937, Sonallah Ibrahim studied law at Cairo University and was imprisoned in 1959 for his political activities. After his release he spent several years abroad and returned in 1974 to Cairo, where he has lived ever since. In 2004 he was awarded -- and pointedly declined -- the Egyptian government's prestigious Novelist of the Year prize.Hosam Aboul-Ela is an author and the translator of Soleiman Fayyad and Ibrahim Abdel Meguid. He is an Associate Professor in the English department at the Universityof Houston, Texas.