As I have said many times, I am a big fan of indie publishers, mainly because they always come up with interesting ideas. At the moment, I’m liking Comma Press’ ‘Reading the City’ series. It’s a simple idea, ten short stories about a city written by authors who live there. This time the focus is on Cairo.
We all know that in the last few years Cairo has undergone changes, many of them problematic but I will admit that these ten stories portray Cairo from a different angle. For starters, more than half these stories are genuinely funny; there’s Hatem Hafiz’s Whine (trans by Raphael Cohen) which concerns a government employee, who goes through an existential crises, or the professional rumormonger of Mohammed Kheir’s Talk (trans by Kareem James Abu-Zeid). The sex obsessed marjuana maker in Ahmed Naji’s (trans by Elisabeth Jaquette) brilliant Siniora. Even the opening story Gridlock offers a humorous view of Cairo’s citizens during a busy morning.
Out of the more serious one’s there’s the heartfelt closer An Alternative Guide to Getting Lost, which is about a woman who desperately wants to escape Cairo by plane but cannot and then there’ the centrepiece of the whole collection, Hassan Abdel Mawgoud’s (Trans by Thoraya El-Rayyes) Into the Emptiness, which I think provides a full picture of both the beautiful and frustrating aspect of Cairo life.
Then there’s the downright weird Soul at Rest is about a judgemental person who writes obituaries for a newspaper and Two Sisters, a offbeat romance featuring a masked video store clerk.
The Book of Cairo has something for everyone and is quite a varied collection. It’s quite rare that you’ll laugh, cry and smile within the space of a 100 pages but this volume manages to do that perfectly. Each story is a winner and a must read in it’s own right.
Many thanks to Comma Press for providing a digital copy of The Book of Cairo in exchange for an honest review.