Tag-Archive for ◊ blackmail ◊

Author:
• Saturday, October 29th, 2011

Alaa El Aswany was born in Egypt in 1957, the only child of an ex aristocratic mother and a well known father from Aswan, in Upper Egypt. His father, Abbas, who received the Egyptian state award for literature in 1972, was a lawyer before becoming a novelist.

Alaa Al Aswany studied in a French private school in Cairo, Le Lycée Français du Caire, which was followed by a Cairo University dentistry degree in 1980 and a Masters degree in 1985 from the University of Illinois in Chicago, where he spent 17 years before returning to live in Egypt. Today he still lives in Cairo with his second wife and three children.

Alaa El Aswany is one of the founding members of the political democratic opposition movement, Kefaya (Enough), meaning enough of president Mubarak’s undemocratic, oppressive regime and its corruption. The movement was founded in 2004.

In 2010 El Aswany was named one of the 500 most influential Muslims for arts and culture. He was also nominated for the prestigious 2010 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for his novel Chicago, published in 2007.

Born Muslim, El Aswany is a secular and free thinker. He has written many articles for Egyptian newspapers on political issues, social matters and literature.

Alaa El Aswany had his dental clinic in the Yacoubian building, in the centre of Cairo, but departed 15 years before writing his fictitious novel about the building. He still practises dentistry twice a week in his clinic in the Garden City district of Cairo, in order to stay in touch with people and have discussions with them, which, he says, is very important to him and helps in his writing since he treats patients as a professional dentist but writes about them as a novelist.

The Yacoubian building was first published by a small, private publisher in Cairo in 2002, after being rejected three times by the Egyptian Book Organisation, the omnipotent state-run publishers controlled by president Mubarak’s regime, because of its perceived controversial content.

The novel was translated into 27 languages and became a best seller in the Arab world. In 2006 it was made into a film with the biggest budget ever for an Egyptian film and in 2007 was made into a television series.

The Yacoubian building, constructed in 1934 in downtown Cairo by the Armenian millionaire Hagop Yacoubian, was an architectural paragon of its time. Unfortunately, after years of neglect and lack of renovation, the condition of the building declined.

It is early 1990 when the story begins. The author describes the everyday life of the people who live in the building. Whether these tenants are wealthy, nouveau-riche or poor, they all share the same struggle to survive and the suffering and hardship they are enduring at the hands of the current Egyptian regime.

Most of them have in common the same obsession for sex and decadence, just like the deteriorating building they live or work in, the corrupted leader they have and the iniquitous government that governs them. The run-down building is a metaphor for the state of the country.

There is the well-to-do, 65-year old, retired Francophile engineer, Zaki Bey Dessouki, the self confessed, “scientist of women” who belongs to the aristocracy of a bygone era, the good old days which his sister Dawlat feels very dissatisfied and angry to have lost and consequently gone with it her two children who emigrated. She becomes bitter and takes it all out on her only brother.

Then there is the rich, middle aged, homosexual, successful newspaper editor, Hatim Rasheed, who couldn’t control his sexual urges for the young, illiterate, Abd Rabo, an upper Egyptian peasant, and police recruit, who will prove to be fatal for him.

And there’s another character, the ambitious nouveau-riche countryman, the old Hagg Mohamed Azzam, who wants to be part of the Egyptian parliament in order to gain power and prestige, even if he has to pay a huge bribe. He discovers that he has uncontrollable sexual needs that his old wife could no longer satisfy and has to marry a second wife, the young Soad who becomes his victim.

Also not forgetting the dirty old, chain of boutiques owner, the rich, Talal Chanane and his young lady workers and sex sufferers, Fifi and Boussaïna, nor the corrupted Malak, who earns his living not only as a shirtmaker but also in the commerce of currencies, alcohol, contraband and anything that brings in money, including blackmail.

There is also the young, Taha El Shazli, the son of the building’s caretaker. He is a bright student who’s dream is to join the police academy and marry his childhood girlfriend and neighbour, Boussaïna. His dream is shattered when he is refused entrance to the police academy because of his father’s profession. Saddened and dismayed after realising that money and contacts in the right place count for more than good grades and perseverance, he becomes bitter and cynical and consequently loses Boussaïna for good. He enrolls at Cairo university and, through one of the students, joins a militant Islamic group and dies a martyr in an organised assault on a senior prison officer who was behind his torture and humiliation while he was jailed. With nothing to live for, and therefore nothing to lose, he died more out of revenge, deceit and loss of hope in the whole Egyptian system than for his Islamic belief.

A contrasting array of characters from dissimilar backgrounds, each one with a different life-style and morals, but all of them seeking a better life. They all inhabit the same building without ever encountering one another, each living in his own world, preoccupied with his own problems.

The characters and the seedy building, which is undoubtedly the main focus of the story, as the main title implies and which still exists in the centre of Cairo, are well developed and quite realistic.

The novel conveys a bleak picture of a contemporary Egypt that lost its bearings, but the ending gives a shy ray of hope for the future. A very interesting, good novel if it was not for the several explicit sex passages which belittle the novel’s many serious themes.

Category: Book Reviews  | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  | Leave a Comment
Author:
• Saturday, June 16th, 2007

Niccolo Ammaniti was born in Rome in 1966. He studied at Liceo Classico and then at university where he read biology. He quitted university before obtaining a degree and decided to breed fish in his bedroom in twelve aquariums containing two thousand litres of water, as a business, in order to earn some money.

Ammaniti wrote his first novel “Branchie” in 1994 and in 1995 published an essay titled “Nel nome del figlio”. In 1996 a collection of short stories called “Fango” came out. As for his great rural novel “Ti prendo e ti porto via” which was written in Scotland during his six months there, it was published in 1999. He then went to the United States in 2001 in order to write the script for an American production called “Gone Bad”. His third novel, “I’m Not Scared” (Io non ho paura) was published in Italy in 2001. Niccolo Ammaniti is the youngest ever winner, at the age of 34, of the prestigious Viareggio-Repaci prize for his novel “I’m Not Scared”, which has been his biggest success so far.

“I’m Not Scared”became a best-seller in Italy for months, and was translated into 20 languages. It was also made into a feature film directed by Gabriele Salvatores, the Academy-award winning director of “Mediterraneo”. It premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2003. Niccolo Ammanity, who lives in Italy, mentioned that he is longing to be a film director, and that his novel “I’m Not Scared” was originally conceived as a film project.

In “I’m Not Scared”a thirty year-old Michele remembers a shocking episode from his childhood in the very hot summer of 1978, twenty years ago in Aqua Traverse, an isolated community living in a hamlet of five houses in the middle of wheat fields, in an unidentified poor region in southern Italy, a nine year-old boy Michele discovers a horrifying secret, unbearable for his age, which is going to change his whole life. He will be thrown into adulthood when he loses his innocence and his faith in the adults around him,and realises that those closest to him are not what he thought they were. And through finding out adult cruelty in kidnapping a child his own age and demanding a ransom from his parents. Michele is put through a dilemma, whether to keep his promise to his father by not going back to see Filippo, or listen to his pure heroic nature. He is helpless and confused as a child and yet courageous and righteous as an adult. The complexity inherent in growing up.Having lost faith in his idealised father and mother and all grown ups surrounding him, he has to work things out by himself and act like a humanitarian hero.

The whole novel is narrated through the nine year-old Michele’s eyes, therefore the language is simple, the sentences short, the paragraphs brief and the image clear, which conveys strength and authenticity to the narration. The author writes with great accuracy the feeling of fear and fantasies of corpse-eaters, ghosts, monsters, and bogeymen that come out at night, which are part of everyday life of a child. Michele is intimidated, like the other children of the hamlet, by Skull (Antonio), who seems to have hold over them through fear and seems to take a sadistic pleasure in ordering his friends around and getting away with it. There is also the fear of Skull’s brother, Felice Natale, who is portrayed as a despicable character.

The story is very well constructed, Michele’s character springs to life while the adults are portrayed in a sketchy way. Ammaniti excelled in capturing with great precision, Michele’s childish thoughts and vocabulary.The story starts in a slow rhythm which conveys the stifling summer heat and also the isolation of the Aqua Traverse people. Nothing much seems to be happening, the children are glad to get together every day to go cycling in the middle of the wheat fields, happily, innocently and without any worries, away from the adults’ evil tension, kidnapping, blackmail and guns. Then comes the black side of the story, the dark black hole opposed to the sunny wheat fields, Michele’s terrible discovery which he keeps to himself. Then follows the tension and violent arguments among the adults which holds the suspense going strong à la Hitchcock, leading to the climax which carries the twist at the end.

Niccolo Ammaniti, a talented story-teller with vivid imagination, is considered one of the best novelists in Italy.

Category: Book Reviews  | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  | Leave a Comment