On Monday, December 6th we met to discuss Stealth (Al Talassus) by Sonallah Ibrahim. A coming-of-age story is given a creative twist in this intimate, offbeat, and strangely affecting novel. The young narrator, age 11, lives with his aged father in a disheveled furnished flat in Cairo. Exceptionally attuned to the moods, habits, and silent yearnings of the adults around him, the boy decides to get organized and become an expert on adult behavior. Surreptitiously, he listens in on adult conversations, observes adult mannerisms, and guesses about comments he’s not supposed to understand—and then he starts to sneak into neighboring apartments to watch adults napping, copulating, bathing, cooking, and all the other activities normal to their lives.
Sonallah Ibrahim is an Egyptian journalist, the author of eight novels, and a former visiting associate professor in the department of Near Eastern studies at the University of California–Berkeley. In 2003 he was awarded a prestigious prize by the Arab Novelist Assembly, which he turned down in protest of government policies.
Sonallah Ibrahim is one of Egypt’s greatest living writers. He has spent a lifetime clipping newspaper articles, quietly defying regimes, and writing clear, unsentimental fiction that is at times absurdist and at times difficult to distinguish from daily Cairo realities. His latest novel, Al Talassus—which could be Eavesdropping or Sneaking, but is translated by Hosam Aboul-Ela as Stealth—is perhaps Ibrahim’s least overtly political work.
Stealth is an intimate, offbeat, yet strangely affecting Bildungsroman in which Sonallah Ibrahim mines his own unconventional upbringing to adopt a child’s-eye – and intensely personal – view of Egypt at a time of political turmoil. Growing opposition to King Farouq, the Zionist control of Palestine and political infighting form the backdrop to the novel. Ibrahim explores through Stealth yearning in its many forms: for maternal love, lost youth, simple creature comforts.
Read a review at http://www.believermag.com/issues/201005/?read=review_ibrahim
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