Rasheed El-Enany

Up Close and Personal

Friendly Fire: Tales of Today’s Egypt

By

Fourth Estate 219pp £10.99 order from our bookshop

‘To look at, a drop of water is as pure and transparent as crystal, but if you magnify it under a lens, a thousand impurities appear. The moon is beautiful and unsullied as long as it’s far away, but if you get close, it looks like a filthy, deserted beach … Our love of beauty is merely a trick produced by the way we look,’ argues the protagonist of Alaa Al Aswany’s novella, ‘The Isam Abd el-Ati Papers’, which occupies nearly half this collection. Applying this logic to his examination of his own life and that of his family, he comments, ‘We were a tight-knit family in the old style, but I drew close and saw.’ These last words actually quote the title of the novella in Arabic: ‘The One Who Drew Close and Saw’. Al Aswany, a practising dentist, sprang to worldwide fame with the success of his first published novel, The Yacoubian Building, which was published in Arabic in 2002, translated into English in 2004, and turned into a hugely successful film in 2006. The discovery of ugliness on ‘drawing close and seeing’ is, perhaps, a professionally inspired metaphor. For what beauty remains in the view of a dentist, on drawing close and seeing wide open what seem from a distance the most immaculately formed lips and pearl-like teeth? 

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Tarantino's latest film is 'a fairy tale about Hollywood, where fantasy is an industrial product and the boulevards… ,
    • 'I don’t think we’re here on Earth to be Happy. I think we’re here on Earth to help God. I am a messianic writer'.… ,
    • 'Darley’s book is not a mad dash through this most compelling and complex of English counties. Nor is it another ti… ,
    • 'Moser’s book offers such a gripping account of a profoundly damaged human being, trapped in a cycle of repetition,… ,
    • 'Ideas that I’d thought were set down in full continue to smoulder ... this book is only a snapshot of some larger… ,
    • 'Full of invention which, at its most pedestrian, is eminently Victorian, and at its most unrestrained wildly imagi… ,
    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,