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
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