Here’s the beginning of my piece on Mohamed Mansi Qandil’s 2005 novel Moon Over Samarqand, which appears today on Marcia Lynx Qualey’s Arabic Literature (In English Translation) blog. Read the whole piece there. Also republished at Mideastposts.com.
“Didn’t I tell you?” the colonel’s daughter Fayza al-Tuhami tells the semi-conscious protagonist of Mohamed Mansi Qandil’s Qamar ʻAla Samarqand (Moon Over Samarqand). “Those soldiers, they’re always looking for an enemy to defeat. And because they’re incapable of defeating the enemy lying in wait across the desert, they defeat us instead. We’re an easy target.”
For obvious reasons, the entire “Fayza” section of Qandil’s novel was suppressed by Dar al-Hilal, the state-owned press that first published Moon Over Samarqand in January 2005. The exotic stories of life and legend in Central Asia — part of Qandil’s nostalgic reconstructions from the medieval Islamic civilizational heritage, including a long section on Uthman’s Quran taken directly from his earlier magazine travelogue — were allowed to stand. So were the disorders and violations of Soviet and post-Soviet Uzbekistan. But the most bitter and immediate part of the novel, which takes place in Cairo and Heliopolis rather than Tashkent and Samarqand, was not deemed fit to print.
Fayza’s story dramatizes the ongoing pathology of Egypt’s relationship with its paternalistic — and far from omnicompetent — military elite. We first meet her at a party; the hypocrite generals and colonels and military intelligence men, including her father and Ali’s, are drinking gin disguised in tomato juice; the young people smoke hashish, listen to music, and make fun of their dads. Later we see that their nihilism has roots in despair. Ali enters the dim basement studio where Fayza (whose name, ironically, means Victorious) paints horrifying canvases: “scratched lines … naked, amputated bodies, their limbs incapable of joining together . . . lost and defenseless, in a limitless grey void.”
It turns out that Fayza has been repeatedly raped by her own father, starting at age 13. One could not ask for a starker metaphor of an army preying on those it exists to protect. Continue reading…