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Zayni Barakat Paperback – February 1, 2010
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Original Language: Arabic --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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However, Zayni Barakat is, like much of Naguib Mahfouz's later work, a pointed commentary on modern Egyptian politics. In particular, it is the story of police surveillance and what it means to live -- and work for -- a police state. Al-Ghitani captures the dis-ease and perversity of the Nasserist police state admirably. The novel thus deserves to be read both as a diversion and as an education in contemporary Arab politics.
The novel is set in the last years of the Mamluk state, an unusual state ruled by slave soldiers that controlled Egypt, the Levant, and the Red Sea (1). For over a century, the sultanate became a permanent junta, with the sultan himself merely the top-ranked oligarch. In 1516, the sultanate entered its last war with the Ottoman Empire--a war that would prove to be a crushing walk-over by Selim I the Grim. But this shattering blow to Cairo is still in the future. The ruthless and oh-so-professional spymaster Zakariyya is challenged by the rise of a mysterious, naïve-seeming inspector of markets--Zayni Barakat, notionally, his new boss (and a direct appointee of the sultan). Soon Zakariyya discovers that Zayni is even better at spying than he is, and potentially a deadly adversary for control of Cairo's immense network of informers and investigators. All his career, the effects have been felt through the rise and fall of entire factions of Mamluks and emirs. Zayni adds to the stakes by introducing pietistic populism in his public appearances.
The narrative structure is unusual and complex. There are many characters, and the point of view shifts constantly.Read more ›