Magazine article World Literature Today

The House of Jasmine

Magazine article World Literature Today

The House of Jasmine

Article excerpt

Ibrahim Abdel Meguid. The House of Jasmine. Noha Radwan, tr. Northampton, Massachusetts. Interlink. 2012. isbn 9781566568821

Shagara, a minor employee in the shipyards of Alexandria and the firstperson narrator of The House of Jasmine- a translation of 1984's Bayt al-yasamin by one of contemporary Egypt's most prominent novelists- lives in a radically fraudulent and corrupt society. President Sadat's operatives are in the habit of organizing, and financing, public demonstrations of support for the regime and its foreign policy of US-inspired rapprochement with Israel. Shagara is supposed to pay his fellow workers to line the streets and applaud when President Nixon drives by. In fact, he excuses them the street-lining and cheering but only gives them half of what he should, keeping the rest for himself. Later he becomes president of the workers' union. He decides, however, that what he really wants is out. That, and the private contentment of marriage.

The three friends with whom he often spends his evenings in the local café are as alienated as he is. In a long, condemnatory speech, 'Abd al-Salam points out that "none of us has a purpose to his life": Hassanayn reads to avoid self-examination, Magid hides from life in his pharmacy, and the speaker, at thirty-three, considers that he is too old to make a difference. …

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