Egypt conjures up images of pyramids and mummies, wide ranging desert and the Nile River. Little does one think of its literary heritage despite the first library being opened in Alexandria, Egypt> In more recent years, a few writers have broken into the English-reading world.
Most English readers are familiar with books set in Egypt by authors such as Wilbur Smith (Warlock and River God) and Agatha Christie (Death on the Nile), Lawrence Durrell (The Alexandria Quartet), Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient) and of course Shakespeare (Anthony and Cleopatra).
Bridging this gap is an article in the Spectator in 1961, Northcliffe of the Nile by William Harcourt which provides some insight into the management of politics and religion. (Harcourt had been in the Special Operations Executive in Cairo). Later writers have taken a more subtle approach to comment on life in Egypt providing a rich and thought-provoking literature.
A decade after Harcourt’s article, Nawal El Saadawi published God dies by the Nile in 1971. Another decade later brought Mekkawi Said to the fore. He published his first book, a collection of short stories, in 1981 – Running after Light. Alas this does not seem to be available but his more famous book is, Cairo Swan Song published in 2008 and shortlisted for the Arabic Booker Prize.
In similar style, TSL has published Sudan-born author Amna Agib (Bit Nafisa)’s The Roots that Gave Birth to Magical Blossoms – a collection of short stories. This is Amna’s first book published in English.
The political nature of writing (and reading) has recently been brought to light by an article noting that in Egypt books have been banned and libraries closed.