From Publishers Weekly
In his deft new collection, the ever-controversial Al Aswany (The Yacoubian Building) again delves into the various miseries of modern Egyptian life. In the long story The Isam Abd el-Ati Papers, the title character rants against Egypt and its citizens with irresistible venom. Isam's hobbies include denouncing the stupid tribal loyalty of his compatriots, humiliating his defeated cartoon-drawing father, sleeping with his mother's maid and infuriating his co-workers by blatantly sipping coffee during Ramadan. But when Isam meets the enchanting German, Jutta, it appears that he may have found just the Western woman to ease his existential pain. In the powerful A Look into Nagi's Face, Nagi, a half-French student, becomes a sadistic teacher's favorite, upsetting the classroom's balance of power. Domestic violence in a bourgeois Egyptian household gets out of hand in When the Glass Shatters; Dearest Sister Makarim mocks the formalities and traditions that hinder real communication between the sexes in modern Muslim culture. Acerbic critique of Egyptian culture is what weaves these stories into a coherent collection. The author systematically unveils his country's most revered institutions, from hospitals and schools to religion and marriage. (Sept.)
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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)
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“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)