Some achieve greatness

Jawaez lil abtal   
AWNI, Ahmad
Mahroussa, Egypt, 2019, 396 pages  جوائز للابطال أجمد عوني

Summary

Summary

The satirical coming of age story (or not) of a 30 year old privileged Egyptian man, on the back drop of the massive Egyptian revolution.

“Some achieve greatness” can be read as a satirical, and touchingly sincere novel about the Egyptian revolution that has held the hopes of a whole generation so high. But it is also very much the story of an individual young man’s heartfelt quest for meaning and his need to belong.

Within a couple of years, Ramy simultaneously loses his father to a stroke, is de facto appointed manager of the large factory he inherits, and becomes obsessively infatuated by a young woman for the first time in his life, as unprecedented massive protests shake the streets of Cairo. Yet, Ramy somehow refuses to grow up. As his old friends find purpose in life in prolonged studies, careers abroad, or family, Ramy  has no special interest, no real motivation, and doubts his own feelings. Does he love Hadir, or does he just desire her badly? Isn’t he terrified at the idea of being her “official” boyfriend? Are the Cairo protests his true home? Or is this just a fantasy? And does he really want to belong to this group of new activist friends he sometimes observes from the unforgiving lens of an anthropologist? As a wealthy young Egyptian businessman, who has never known poverty, how deeply can Ramy relate to the protests? What is really at stake for him? How deeply can any of his activist, artsy, bohemian friends really relate to the protests, if they gave it an honest thought? How can Bassel, who works at his factory and is a leader of the movements on the street, take him seriously? Ramy tries hard, and would love to fit, but struggles for the protests to be more to him than just some kind of an exciting game.

This is until Boodi is grabbed off the street by the police and thrown into a van during one protest. Ramy immediately jumps into the van after him. Ramy wanted to be able to tell, in retrospect, the story of his arrest like so many other admirable young men do. This “real” experience is bound to give him legitimacy. Terrified in prison, clearly a novice, Ramy is released barely 24 hours later, by a close friend of his late father, a minister in office. Confused, and tired by weeks spent on the street, crowned by 24 hours under arrest, upon his release Ramy instantly heads to the seaside where he owns an old boat inherited from his father. He retires for a month on the boat, alone, disconnected from people, news, and social media. When he decides to go back to Cairo a month later, Ramy finds his face stenciled almost on every wall around Tahrir square, along with the question “Where is Ramy?”

Eventually, our accidental hero finds out that his “friends” think he is still being held and tortured inside the prison where he was taken. Unbeknownst to him, Ramy, the legend, seems to have achieved great acts of generosity and bravery… He finds himself in a cruel ironic dilemma: If he tells them he was at the beach all this time, and that all their protests and actions were in vain, he will be everyone’s joke for the rest of his life. If he doesn’t tell, people will keep protesting, some will even die. Not to mention that he will also lose his life as he knew it.

Written from the perspective of the main protagonist, the novel opens on Ramy returning to Cairo and  coming face to face with his stenciled portraits on the walls. The novel sets out to explore Ramy’s life, his thoughts, and this existential dilemma in depth, and explains how Ramy was ever able to get himself into this situation.

“Some achieve greatness” is a beautiful and surprisingly  honest and insightful read on the revolutionaries of the 21st century. Beautifully written, funny, and bitingly satirical “Some achieve greatness” is also a novel about failing or refusing to grow up in a part of the world where becoming a worthy man sometimes implies making difficult, potentially life-threatening, decisions. Not everyone is meant to be a hero.

 

Winner of Sawiris Best Novel Prize in 2019

Translation sample

Translation sample

Translated by Adam Talib

You can’t rely on a Twitter revolutionary. The phrase rang in my ears as I tried to take a selfie. Who wrote that? In my head, I heard it in Boodi’s voice, but it didn’t sound like something he’d write. I couldn’t take a selfie. My fingers were too sweaty to work the touchscreen on my phone. Before I even had a chance to turn back, the world went topsy-turvy again. The sky was as black as asphalt and the ground beneath us was white. A cloud of teargas enveloped us as everyone scattered like ants. The slow ones fell and the faster ones fell on top of them. Only the nimble managed

to leap over the others sprawled on the ground. I was in the first group who ran back toward the square and we were soon followed by others, but when a few seconds had passed and no one else emerged from the white cloud, we made way for the men who were dragging carpets spiked with nails, which they laid across the road.

When the gas cleared and I could finally see again, I spotted Hadir lying lifeless and alone in the street, like a captured chess piece. Boodi ran past me, jumping effortlessly over the spiked carpet, and the next thing I could remember, I was sprinting forward as well. He got to her a second before I did. I picked Hadir up from the shoulders but before Boodi could lift her legs, three policemen pounced on him. One of them grabbed his arms, another his belt, a third wrapped his arms around his waist. They threw him in the back of a police van, which we hadn’t seen, although it was right beside us.

“Go on, pretty boy. You and her get out of here,” the largest of the three said to me.

I was still cradling an unconscious Hadir in my arms, but I laid her back down on the ground gently and when the officers ran off to arrest someone else, I jumped into the back of the van. I had chosen to do the one thing that would fix all that had come before and anything that still awaited me. I planned to turn thirty with a clear conscience.

Rights

Rights

RAYA represents the author for the world rights of this title.

Check Ahmad Awni’s page for the rights situation of this title.

 

 

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