War in the Land of Egypt
Author: Yusef al-Qa'id
Translators: Salma Khadra Jayyusi, Olive and Lorne Kenney, and Christopher Tingley
Publisher: Interlink (1998)
War in the Land of Egypt is a Kafka-esque tale of corruption, bureaucracy, and class division, set in Egypt during the 1973 October war. al-Qa'id's ironic parody loses none of its black-comedic bite in the translation to English, while the characters and their motives—though individuals brought vividly to life—are universally recognizable and need no cultural transliteration. Multiple characters representing various strata of Egyptian society relate this tragic farce of how a poor family is crushed by the whims of the rich and the oppressive weight of a bureaucracy designed to serve only the interests of the rich. The sumptuous mosaic of modern life in the land of the pharaohs was banned in Egypt when originally published there in 1975. Artistically, the structure of War in the Land of Egypt is both pleasing and exceptionally fitting as a chronicle of modern Egyptian life. The combined narratives of each nameless storyteller form a pyramid, with Masri—the only named character and also the only one deprived of telling his own story—at the apex. The title too is particularly appropriate, referring not just to the external conflict, but to the ageless struggle that has raged among the Egyptian people themselves. al-Qa'id, a prolific writer with 11 novels and four short-story collections to his name, is one of a new generation of Egyptian writers credited with advancing the relatively new art of the Arab novel. War in the Land of Egypt is a testament to his skills.