The early twentieth century witnessed the birth of an Egyptian novel that was an offspring of European realism and a constituent of the project of “modernizing” the country and the region. Yet by the middle of the century, the majority of Egyptian writers were veering away from realism in search of more subjective as well as more indigenous or even hybrid narrative forms. The seventies, however, mandated another generic shift. As the impoverishing effects of global capital development and the government's neoliberal policies became preponderant, Egyptian writers reoriented their writings to address the socioeconomic conditions and search for means of resistance. I argue that this constitutes a return to realism in spite of the novels' diverse and unconventional forms. The essay ends with a comparison of two novels published at the start of the twenty-first century, one ostensibly realist, The Yacoubian Building, and one in a radically nonconventional form, An Interval for Bewilderment, and argues that other criteria besides narrative form should decide which of the two is realism and which a semblance of the genre and an obfuscation of reality.
One Hundred Years of Egyptian Realism
noha radwan is associate professor of Arabic and comparative literature at the University of California, Davis, author of Egyptian Colloquial Poetry in the Modern Arabic Canon (2012), and translator of Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid's novel The House of Jasmine (2012).
Noha Radwan; One Hundred Years of Egyptian Realism. Novel 1 August 2016; 49 (2): 262–277. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-3509019
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