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Aunt Safiyya And The Monastery: A Novel

by Bahaa` Taher, Trans. By Barbara Romaine

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From Publishers Weekly
As the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin proved, the schisms within nations can be as dangerous as those between nations. It is in this realm of internal, individual conflicts that Taher, an Egyptian, sets his novel. Egypt in the years surrounding the 1967 Arab-Israeli war is a nation increasingly divided between Muslims and Coptic Christians, and between those who look to the past and those who look to the future. Championing the ancient practices of vendettas and blood feuds is Aunt Safiyya, who swears that she will not rest until her son kills the man who murdered her husband. Opposing her and the old traditions are the narrator's father, a Muslim, and Bishai, a Coptic monk. Filled with details of village life in Egypt and smartly translated to integrate Arabic words that have no direct English equivalent, the style is clear, beautiful and exotic. As a humane story of individuals striving for tolerance against traditions of violence, it is one that should appeal not only to those interested in Egyptian history and literature, but also to those interested in the foundations and possibilities of peace.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

L'Indice dei Libri del Mese
"The pleasure of the narrative comes from the large number of characters, from the writing, which is expansive and rich in incidents, and from a moral and historical sense that gives the book depth."

Il Sole 24 Ore
"Beyond the events, Taher draws a very lively portrait of a woman of Islamic civilization in the 1960s, where women, holding their chador between their teeth while their hands serve their men, play the part of the protagonists who are silent but very powerful in the life of the community (a community that is disintegrating with the departure of women for the social emanicipation offered by the big city, and with the end of Safiyya [the book's heroine] and of the superstitions that have persecuted her, as for millenia they have persecuted Egypt, crushed by its myths and by cultural tradition immobilized by time."

Book Description
This brief, beautifically crafted novel introduces one of the finest contemporary Arab novelists to English-speaking audiences. In it, Bahaa' Taher, one of a group of Egyptian writers--including the Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz--noted for their revealing portraits of Egyptian life and society, tells the dramatic story of a young Muslim who, when his life is threatened, finds sanctuary in a community of Coptic monks. It is a tale of honor and of the terrible demands of blood vengeance; it probes the question of how a people or nation can become divided against itself.
Taher has a magical gift for evoking the village life of Upper Egypt--a vastly different setting than urban Cairo and a landscape that tourists usually glimpse only from the windows of trains and buses taking them to the Pharaonic sites. Here, where Christians and Muslims have coexisted peacefully for centuries, where the traditions of the Coptic Church are as powerful as those of the Muslims, Taher crafts an intricate and compelling tale of far-reaching implications. With a powerful narrative voice and a genius for capturing the complex nuances of human interaction, Taher brilliantly depicts the poignant drama of a traditional society caught up in the process of change.

Language Notes
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Arabic

From the Inside Flap
"Taher is by far the best and most original contemporary Egyptian writer."--Muhammad Siddiq, University of California, Berkeley

"It is a compelling and fascinating book, written in a direct and terse style by a writer who paid attention to his world and saw its limitations clearly but who remembers it with nostalgia and affection."--Segno Sette

From the Back Cover
"Taher is by far the best and most original contemporary Egyptian writer." (Muhammad Siddiq, University of California, Berkeley)

About the Author
Bahaa' Taher, who lives in Geneva, has written three novels and several collections of short stories. This novel, his most recent, is the first to appear in English. Barbara Romaine teaches Arabic at the College of William and Mary.



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