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War in the Land of Egypt (Emerging Voices) Paperback – November 1, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Yusuf Al-Qa'id's War in the Land of Egypt was banned in his native country but published to wide acclaim outside of Egypt. The first of his novels to be translated into English, it tells the story of Masri (the only character with a name), a young Egyptian peasant who is sent into the Egyptian army on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur war in place of a rich man's son. Al-Qa'id tells his tale from several different perspectives: that of the village headman (the Umda) whose son Masri will replace; the broker who finds Masri; the hapless young man's father; his friend; his commanding officer; and finally, the investigator sent to look into the switch. The one character we do not hear from is Masri.

It soon becomes apparent why this book was banned in Egypt, as Al-Qa'id uses the events surrounding the war to indict the bureaucratic corruption and social inequality rife in his country. Each character represents a different facet of Egyptian society with Masri himself, by virtue of his name (which, in Arabic, translates as "Egyptian"), standing for Everyman. Political this novel doubtless is, but it is also a masterfully crafted piece of fiction and a genuine page-turner as well. --Alix Wilber

From Booklist

The first of Al-Qa'id's 11 novels to be published in English is the account of an umda, a village politician, who plots to get his youngest son out of army service during what turns out to be the beginning of the Yom Kippur War. The novel begins with Sadat returning land nationalized by Nasser; the umda's land is soon restored to him, and he is suddenly once again the most powerful man in his region. To get his son out of the service, he turns to "The Broker," a former teacher who has learned how to manage the loopholes of Egypt's bureaucracy. A replacement is found for the umda's son. When the war begins and the replacement is sent to the front lines, the novel becomes a broiling indictment of Egyptian double standards. Not surprisingly, it was long banned in its home country. Each chapter is inventively told by a different character, but none by either of the two boys at the plot's center. A welcome addition to any international fiction collection. David Cline

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Product Details

  • Series: Emerging Voices
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Interlink Publishing Group (November 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566562279
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566562270
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #522,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Isis S. Mikhail on May 31, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After I read this book to an "unknown" author, it became clear to me why it was selected by the "Emerging Voices International Book Series" to be translated and introduced to the American reader. This novel takes place in Egypt during the 1973 war, where the son of a poor watch-man was coerced to send his son to the front instead of the son of a rich 'umda' or village chief. Although it takes place in a rural Egyptian village, yet it touches on issues that have no borders. It stimulates the reader to think deep inside about one's own beliefs on issues such as justice, social class and differences between the rich and the poor, the "haves" and the "have-nots". I was quite impressed by the innovative technique that the author has chosen to write his novel. The characters of the novel are also the narrators of the story. They are telling their sides of the story by talking directly to the reader, yet in a manner that maintains the fluency and continuity of the events without any repetition. The author deliberately omitted giving names to any of the characters, with the exception of the main character, a young man named "Masri" or the Egyptian, which symbolized the (Egyptian) people. This book cannot be described in a brief review effortlessly, somehow you must read it to get its full effect and meaning. Although it is written in a simple manner, yet I perceive it to be rather sophisticated invloving deep thought from the writer to reflect deeper meanings. Ther were a few typos in the text, but these did not take away from this wonderful novel, but clearly would have been better without. I believe that anyone who will read this book will appreciate an outstanding writer and an innovative novel.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By AA on August 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
A beautifully crafted fiction that illustrates in a vivid way much of Egypt social ills and its charms. Yusuf Al-Qa'id uses a very creative approach and highly unusual one in Egyptian novels to tell the story of a substitution of a poor peasant for the wealthy son of the village mayor. The story takes place in 1973, at a time when conscription lasted for indefinite periods of time and only few years after humiliation of the Egyptian military in 1967. Six different storytellers reveal the details of the story to us from very different perspectives with highly varying levels of empathy with the main character.
Al Quid uses extensive symbolism in the story; none of the characters have names except for the main character who was given an unusual generic first name "the Egyptian". Oppressive social pressures, slaving for family status and appearances, corruption a patriarchal tyranny, city indifference, rich vs poor, gap of opportunity, oppression of authority, helplessness of the common and indeed of all Egyptians are all the strong and recurring themes throughout the book. The symbolism is generally not subtle and at times it feels like the author has tried to cover more social ills than anyone story can do justice. The story is too gripping to lose the reader in the midst of the litany of Egypt's social ills.
While the six different story tellers help round out a more complete picture of the central sad tale as a whole, much of the story and many of the characters came across one dimensional, too cardboard like the good, the bad, the greedy, the conscientious, the helpless and so forth. Somehow, to me, it felt something was lacking despite the six different perspectives.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on April 12, 2010
Format: Paperback
This very readable short novel offers a social critique of modern-day Egypt that leaves no doubt about the meek inheriting the earth. In the post-Nasser world of the 1970s, they don't. The plot in simplest terms concerns the efforts of a well-to-do administrator in a rural village to have his son exempted from military service by persuading a peasant's son to take his place. Told from the point of view of six different narrators, and with a good deal of black humor, the story exposes the self-serving intentions of those who accept bribes of one kind or another to make this highly irregular scheme take place.

We never meet the young man in question, but the story follows him to the front lines during the brief Yom Kippur/Ramadan War of October 1973, where he heroically serves as a stretcher bearer. Efforts are made after the cease-fire that ends the war to correct the injustice of his role as a replacement inductee (as an only son he is not required to serve). However, the poverty of his family and bureaucratic indifference at many levels conflict with the efforts of those who want to right a wrong.

First published in Beirut in 1978, the book was banned in Egypt. It's overdue version in English was not published until 1998 and is part of Interlink Books' excellent Emerging Voices series. The book includes an afterward discussing the author's career and provides an informative commentary on the novel's structure and story.
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