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By Alaa Al Aswany

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In his deft new collection, the ever-controversial Al Aswany (The Yacoubian Building) again delves into the various miseries of modern Egyptian life. In the long story "The Isam Abd el-Ati Papers," the title character rants against Egypt and its citizens with irresistible venom. Isam's hobbies include denouncing the "stupid tribal loyalty" of his compatriots, humiliating his defeated cartoon-drawing father, sleeping with his mother's maid and infuriating his co-workers by blatantly sipping coffee during Ramadan. But when Isam meets the enchanting German, Jutta, it appears that he may have found just the Western woman to ease his existential pain. In the powerful "A Look into Nagi's Face," Nagi, a half-French student, becomes a sadistic teacher's favorite, upsetting the classroom's balance of power. Domestic violence in a bourgeois Egyptian household gets out of hand in "When the Glass Shatters"; "Dearest Sister Makarim" mocks the formalities and traditions that hinder real communication between the sexes in modern Muslim culture. Acerbic critique of Egyptian culture is what weaves these stories into a coherent collection. The author systematically unveils his country's most revered institutions, from hospitals and schools to religion and marriage. (Sept.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

'Alaa Al Aswany is a world writer, making Egyptian concerns into human ones and beautifully illuminating our always extraordinary and sometimes sad and baffling world.' The Times'Alaa Al Aswany is among the best writers in the Middle East today, a suitable heir to the mantle worn by Naquib Mahfouz, his great predecessor, whose influence is felt on every page. Yet Al Aswany has his own magic.' Guardian'A wonderful storyteller and a cynically astute observer of human folly and frailty.' Spectator

Best-selling Egyptian novelist Al Aswany (The Yacoubian Building) returns with a startling first collection, elegant yet pointedly sharp-tongued and sarcastic. The opening and longest work, "The Isam Abd el-Ati Papers," tests the boundaries of fiction, leaving the reader in doubt about the narrator's sanity. The succeeding stories follow in a similar vein, both shocking and outrageous in their critical and iconoclastic view of Egyptian life. For instance, in "The Kitchen Boy," medical student Hisham seems destined for failure as a surgeon but stands up to his bullying superiors and wins an academic appointment; the author pokes fun at the arbitrary nature of success in a highly bureaucratic culture. Throughout, the stories examine the opposition between the mores of society and the needs of the individual. Al Aswany is an insightful student of the human condition whose trenchant characters evoke a weird hybrid of Albert Camus and Charles Bukowski; the strange landscape depicted is at once painful and playful, rich in meaning and understatement. Useful notes help readers understand Egyptian and Islamic history and customs. Verdict For readers of literary fiction, fans of existentialism, and students of short story writing.-Henry Bankhead, Los Gatos P.L., CA Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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