AUNT SAFIYYA AND THE MONASTERY by Bahaa’ Taher

AUNT SAFIYYA AND THE MONASTERY - Bahaa' TaherBahaa’ Taher is a contemporary Egyptian writer, and in keeping with my desire to read more fiction that is outside the usual English cannon, I jumped at the chance to read this.

In Egypt social criticism, ranging from the gently allusive to the scathingly satirical, often finds expression in fiction.  However, a number of Egyptian writers have at various times suffered censorship, or worse, as a result of expressing their views too freely.  Taher was no exception, suffering censure and prevented from publishing during the Anwar Sadat years.

This book is set in the time of the revolution when Nasser came to power.  But we must remember that Taher is a story teller first, and a social commentator second.  This book is not about the upheavals of his time.  It is about a small village outside the city of Luxor, where everyone is related to everyone else.

It is the 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 is told in first person narration by a man who was a boy during the time of the events in the tale.  His foster sister marries the old bey, three times her age, instead of the young man whom she loves.  She comes to love him very much — well, heck, he is rich and powerful — and has a son by the man.

For some reason, the old bey believes that the young man, decent and honorable, has done him some dishonor, and sets off in retribution against him.  After a series of tragic events, the young, broken man comes to live within the confines of the local Coptic monastery, and the tale proceeds apace.

It was a powerful story, and the politics of the time were merely the backdrop for the piece.  It is really about intertwined relationships and how our desire for revenge can kill us.

This was beautifully translated from the Arabic by Barbara Romaine.

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One comment on “AUNT SAFIYYA AND THE MONASTERY by Bahaa’ Taher

  1. […] wrote Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery, and this book, Sunset Oasis, won the inaugural International Prize for Arabic Fiction in […]

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