A young woman pieces together her family’s hidden past “I have returned to settle my account. . . .”
Told through the voices of a group of close friends and spanning a generation, The Smiles of the Saints is an epic story condensed into a short, intricate novel. Twenty-year-old Haneen has just returned to Egypt after an absence of fifteen years spent mostly in a Parisian boarding school, cut off from all family save for sporadic visits from her father, Rami. She has been summoned back by her father’s twin sister, who gives her an envelope containing his diaries, the last section of which is missing. Reading Rami’s account of the passionate love affairs and tortured spiritual adventures of his youth, Haneen begins to unravel the riddle of a family she has barely known.
Herself the child of a Muslim–Christian marriage, Haneen, in love with a Jewish man, is considering adding a further religious dimension to her family. But someone is carefully watching the proceedings, a figure from the past. Who exactly is this, and what stake does he have in Haneen’s return?
Couched in a pervasive air of mystery, Ibrahim Farghali’s novel is resonant with observations on the intricacies of human entanglements.
Ibrahim Farghali was born in Mansoura in the Nile Delta in 1967 and grew up in Oman and the United Arab Emirates. He has written two collections of short stories and three novels. He is a journalist with al-‘Arabi magazine in Kuwait.
English-born Andy Smart and Egyptian Nadia Fouda-Smart lived in Cairo for many years, where they established their own publishing house before moving to London.