City of Love and Ashes
82 pages

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82 pages

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A classic novel from one of the great contemporary writers of Egypt and the Middle East

Cairo, January 1952. Egypt is at a critical point in its modern history, struggling to throw off the yoke of the seventy-year British occupation and its corrupt royalist allies. Hamza is a committed young radical, his goal to build a secret armed brigade to fight for freedom, independence, and national self-esteem. Fawziya is a woman with a mission too, keen to support the cause. Among the ashes of the city love may grow, but at a time of national struggle what place do personal feelings have beside the greater love for a shackled homeland? In this finely crafted novel, Yusuf Idris, best known as the master of the Arabic short story, brings to life not only some of the most human characters in modern Arabic fiction but the soul of Cairo itself and the soul of a national consciousness focused on liberation.



Publié par
Date de parution 01 janvier 2002
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781617972041
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

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Yusuf Idris
Translated by
R. Neil Hewison
Copyright © 1956 by the estate of Yusuf Idris
English translation copyright © 1999 by The American University in Cairo Press 113 Sharia Kasr el Aini, Cairo, Egypt
First paperback edition 2002 Second printing 2004
First published in Arabic in 1956 as Qissat hubb Protected under the Berne Convention
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Darel Kutub No. 16709/01 ISBN 977 424 699 3
Printed in Egypt
City of Love and Ashes is set in Cairo in January and February of 1952, six months before the July Revolution that ousted the hated King Farouk and led later to the final expulsion of British troops from Egypt. The British had withdrawn from most of Egypt in 1947 but continued to occupy the militarized zone of the Suez Canal, on which the Egyptian nationalist underground resistance then focused: the long-lasting guerrilla offensive by Fedayeen such as this novel’s hero, Hamza, became known as the Battle of the Canal. On 25 January 1952, British troops attacked Ismailia police headquarters, leaving fifty Egyptians dead. The following day, Black Saturday, large parts of Cairo burned as angry mobs reacted to the news. Many people accused the king and the Wafd government of inciting the violence (or at least failing to curb it) to promote their own political agenda. Order was finally restored by the Egyptian army, in time to avert a reoccupation of the country by British troops. A government crackdown on underground groups followed, but dissatisfaction and dissension ran too deep by now, and on 23 July the Free Officers, led by Gamal Abd al-Nasser, made their move and entered history with their bloodless coup d’état that became a Revolution.
Most of the streets, squares, and districts of Cairo trodden in City of Love and Ashes can still be found on a modern street “map of the city. Three have been renamed: Khalig Street is now Port Said Street; Fuad Street is the downtown section of 26 July Street, although many people still use its pre-Revolution name; Malika Nazli Street is Ramses Street between Ramses Station and Abbasiya. The Opera House, of course, is the old Opera House on Opera Square, which burned down in 1971. Bab al-Luq Station and Sayyida Zaynab Station were on the suburban line to Helwan, which has now been replaced by the Cairo Metro; Sayyida Zaynab Station has been rebuilt, but Bab al-Luq Station was removed entirely in the early 1980s. Groppi’s and A I‘Américaine are still popular teahouses in downtown Cairo.
Yusuf Idris was one of the true giants of modern Egyptian literature, his contribution far greater than is revealed by the few selected short stories that have so far been available in translation. He revolutionized the Arabic short story with his very first collection, Arkhas layali (The Cheapest Nights, 1954), in which he depicted the lives of lower-middle-class and working-class Egyptians in vividly realistic terms. In these and other stories, and in his novels and hard-hitting, satirical plays, his inspired use of Egypt’s rich colloquial Arabic in his dialogue achieved a real-life directness that is absent from the work of writers past and present who rely solely on the classical language. In City of Love and Ashes (his first novel, published as Qissat hubb , A Love Story, in 1956), Idris switches effortlessly between a graceful and expressive classical Arabic in the author’s voice and a vital and immediate colloquial when the characters speak for themselves. This use of two contrasting forms of Arabic cannot, unfortunately, be reflected in an English translation. Idris goes further, and evinces regional and class differences in the speech of his characters (Hasan, for instance has a north coast accent, while Abu Duma’s speech reveals his lack of education). I have not attempted to reproduce ‘equivalent’ English regional and social varieties in this translation: the result would be highly artificial.
A film loosely based on the novel was made in 1963. La waqta li-l-hubb (No Time for Love) was directed by Salah Abu Seif and starred Faten Hamama as Fawziya, Rushdi Abaza as Hamza, and an excellent Salah Jahin as Bedeir.
I owe an immense debt of gratitude to a great translator and a great friend, Denys Johnson-Davies, who first persuaded me to take on this project, then gave me constant support and encouragement all along the way. I could not have completed the translation without the generous help of a number of very patient friends, in particular Ayman al-Azabawi, Rifat Amin, and the late and much missed Muhammad ‘Mandela’ Serour— shukran gazilan . I am grateful too to Pauline Wickham for her support and her perceptive editing of the text. Finally, to my parents Maurice and Vivienne Hewison I dedicate this book with love.

The tram terminal in Shubra al-Balad is more than just the beginning of a tramline. It is a pivot of constant interplay between Cairo and its suburbs, between the city and the many factories scattered around it. You see village folk here coming to the capital, awestruck by the city, breathless at the drone of the great bustle and the new world. You see sullen workers in the bustle too, resentful of the city but unable to escape it.
And—on this particular January day—you see Hamza standing as usual waiting for the tram to leave the long tail of cars crammed at the beginning of the line and make its way to Ataba Square. As he waits he breathes in deeply, with pleasure, for the terminal was also a pivot of constant interplay between the constricting life he lived in the morning among the white coats, vats of dye, and test tubes and the free and open life that began once he stepped onto the station platform.
He stood and narrowed his eves slightly behind his glasses to be able to see the scene more clearly. He observed the people as he fidgeted nervously. The faces that attracted his attention were serious and harsh; he imagined their luster was the spark of hidden desires being set free, the outbreak of revolt, and when their voices reached him he always took them as the rustle of demonstrations or the roar of strikes. In spite of the cold, and the gray clouds that hid the sun, there was a smell in the air, a peculiar smell that made the body tremble, like the smell from the barrel of a rifle just fired.
A tram pulled away from the line of cars to start its long journey. Hamza practically sprang onto it to claim a place among the many people standing. By the time the conductor had finished issuing the tickets the passengers had quite relaxed, and any barriers of reserve and alienation among them had lifted. Hamza pricked up his ears to listen to their conversations. Not the usual altercations, apologies, jokes—just the English ... The English ... Battalions, commandos, Kafr Abduh, tanks ... Erskine and the Egyptian troops ... Four English soldiers killed ... The waterworks blown up ... Their day will come, the bastards ... By God, we’ll turn them out of Egypt dancing and singing all the way ... If we had weapons ... We need weapons ... Where can we get them? ... Where? There are ways ... If only they’d come out and fight us man to man!
Three halts from the beginning of the line, halfway between Shubra al-Balad and Cairo, Hamza got down. There were no buildings here, just broad stretches of cultivated land, telephone poles, huts made from tin sheets, and mounds of piled garbage.
He walked for a time across deserted land until he came to the leveled patch with the tent erected on it. A firing post had been set up at one end of the patch of land; at the other end there were wooden barricades, and in front of them a ditch. A sign on the tent read “The General Committee for Armed Struggle” in small letters, and beneath it in larger letters “Shubra Training Camp.” He found the sign hanging crooked, so he straightened it. He saluted, and his salute was returned by a large, dark, voting man wearing long, yellow trousers and a long-sleeved, turtleneck jersey. The young man had seen him coming, and had left his seat at the firing post and come to meet him. Hamza greeted him and they went inside the tent out of the bitter cold. Hamza sat on a box with handles on the sides, while the young man sat next to him on the ground. Hamza rubbed his hands together to warm them and blew into them fruitlessly. His teeth chattered as he spoke. “It’s cold.”
“A cup of tea‘d go down nicely, Hasan!”
“You want some tea?”
“Go down nicely, Abu Ali.” Hamza called Hasan by his familiar nickname.
“Tea. We’ll make you some tea.”
The young man went off to a two-legged gas burner, a tin can, a large earthenware pitcher full of water, and a jar of sugar, and pulled a half-ounce packet of tea from his trouser pocket. While he was lighting the burner, Hamza asked him, “Nobody been?”
“Not a soul.”
“Somebody was supposed to come at two o’clock, and it’s two-fifteen now. Didn’t he show up?”
“No, he didn’t.”
“Nothing strange but the Devil!”
Then the young man looked at him, smiled, and added, “I don’t believe’it.”
“What don’t

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