The black humor of life in an Upper Egyptian village from a previously untranslated writer This collection of fourteen connected stories and a novella, From the Secret History of Numan Abdel Hafez, takes us deep into Upper Egypt and the village of Dayrut al-Sharif, in which Mohamed Mustagab was born. To depict a world renowned for its poverty, ignorance, vendettas, and implacable code of honor, Mustagab deploys the black humor and Swiftian sarcasm of the insider who knows his society only too well. When the stillness of a day’s end is shattered by a single gunshot, poignant beauty merges seamlessly into horror, and when a police officer seeking to unravel a murder finds himself with more body parts than he knows what to do with, violence tips as easily into farce. In counterpoint, the author’s often surrealist imagination explores the mysteries of a landscape where seductive women haunt dusty paths and a man may find himself crushed like a worm beneath another’s foot. Elsewhere, the horizons of ‘my village’ expand to include other countries (the author worked in the Arabian Peninsula for a number of years), where equally disastrous consequences follow on folly and self-delusion. Previously almost unknown in English, Mustagab’s voice is both original and disturbing.
Mohamed Mustagab was born in the Upper Egyptian town of Dayrut in 1938. He received little formal education but secured a post at the Academy of the Arabic Language in Cairo and rose to the position of general director. He published his first short story in the magazine al-Hilal in 1968 and continued to write prolifically throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, receiving numerous prizes over the course of his long career. From the Secret Life of Numan Abdel Hafez was awarded the State Incentive Prize in 1984 and was chosen as one of the top hundred novels from the Arab world in the last century. Mohamed Mustagab died in 2006.
Humphrey Davies is the translator of Alaa Al Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building and Friendly Fire (AUC Press, 2008) and Elias Khoury’s Gate of the Sun, for which he was awarded the Banipal Prize for Literary Translation. He was awarded the 2010 Saif Ghobash–Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for his translation of Yalo by Elias Khoury.