The swan’s last song
| Taghridat al-Bajaa
al-Dar, Cairo, 2007, 290 pages
The colorful bitter-sweet account of a young man’s erratic life in 2006 Cairo.
Elias Khoury: “Makkawi Said knows how to lead us to the blissfulness of narration, and into his intertwined stories.”
Cairo 2006. The narrator, Mustafa, an academic, leads an agitated life in this very cosmopolitan city. We first get to know him as Marsha’s man, a young American woman established in Cairo. We then get to know him as Zaynab’s lover, a young journalist woman come from the countryside with some illusions, but no bitterness. There is also Yasmine, a very conservative young girl, a poet whom he guides and advises… It is almost as if the women of his life correspond to the different aspects of Cairo. A city which evolves so quickly and so unexpectedly, and which has so many different faces it is almost hard to fully know it, or capture it.
As the evolving and moving city, the characters themselves are hard to capture. The narrator’s friend Issam, starts as a young promising painter, and ends as a self-destructive mystical man; while on the other hand, his old leftist acquaitance, Ahmad, becomes a fundamentalist preacher spreading the good word in the streets. Mustafa, himself taking on different personas, is at the core of the novel, and the point where all these different aspects of the city meet. He is part of the intellectual intelligentsia who mingles with foreigners, but at the same time, he is Karim’s friend, a young street gang’s leader. The transitions from one cozy universe to the other ruthless one are as brutal in the novel’s pages as they are in real life, seems to say the narrator. Still, there is no empathy, no drama.
All the book’s events unfold, almost irrationally, and with a speed that does not allow the reader to pause, and think. Though they may seem independent and meaningless, they are somehow linked in space and time and constitute the essence of being. Instead of a psychological vertical depth, there is a sort of horizontal diversity that unfolds in time, and characterizes both the city and its inhabitants. We are bombarded with stories, characters, events, conversations, and through this thick literary fabric, we get a sense of the particulare universe that characterizes Cairo, and of the despair and confusion with which is confronted a whole generation. Indeed, Mustafa’s existence seems to flow through his hands, out of his reach, at the rhythm of lost opportunities and disappearing friends. Though erratic in hic case, life still steadily moves undoubtedly towards an ending. Death looms at the horizon of this colorful existence. Like the swan that sings its last song while heading towards the ocean, Mustafa tells us his stories.
al-Quds | Elias Khoury | October 2008
I would like to thank Makkawi Said, whose novel proved that the old [post-Mahfouz] literary vision lives on in the new one. This does not mean that ‘The swan’s last song’ imitates Halsa’s novels. But it does mean that the literary style innovated by Halsa is making its way through the modern Egyptian creativity, thus opening new horizons for the Arab novel.
I do not wish to summarize the novel’s stories, for Makkawi Said knows how to lead us to the blissfulness of narration, and into his intertwined stories (read the complete French translation of this article by clicking here).
al-Akhbar | Mohammad Khayr
The novel, the second edition of which was published by al-Dar, Cairo, just a few months after the first edition, is characterized by a narrative style, both subtle and greatly entertaining.
an-Nahar | Intisar Abd-al-moneem
Makkawi Said penetrated the world of the children of the streets with an outstanding skillfulness. He gathers, analyses, experiences the contradictions of a society.
al-Hayat | Yusri Abdallah
The Egyptian literary landscape is going through major transformations. Taking its heritage and diversity into account, it tends towards a diverse and creative narrative, characterized by multiplicity, and an opening towards a changing horizon.
RAYA has world rights to this title, except for English.
World rights are available, except for English.