The Lodging House (Wikalat Atiya) by Khairy Shalaby

On March 3rd we gathered to discuss The Lodging House (Wikalat Atiya) by Khairy Shalaby.

‘This engaging novel of complex characters and shifting storylines by the Egyptian author Khairy Shalaby was awarded the 2003 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature and the translator, Farouk Abel Wahab, was just awarded the 2007 winner of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation. In The Lodging House a young man’s dreams for a better future as a student in the Teachers Institute are shattered after he assaults one of his instructors for discriminating against him. From then on, he begins his descent into the underworld. Penniless, he seeks refuge in Wikalat Atiya, a historic but now completely run-down caravanserai that has become the home of the town’s marginal and underprivileged characters.

Missed the talk? Copies of the book are still available at the gallery.

Our discussion explored some of the following themes:

  • How Shalaby’s storytelling style enveloped us in the rambling travels of its characters, to the point where we too felt as though we had spent the day in a company of opium smokers and a host of particular characters. It is so much about characters that one enjoys an engaging ride even without quick plot changes
  • The main character’s role both as an anti-hero, who kept evading opportunities for improving his standing and seemed to only stumble through life, and as a foil, a tool which the author could use to wrap his stories around much as he was a tool in the book for some of his scheming friends. As in 1001 Arabian nights, the book was a succession of stories and characters, evocatively described and interlayered/interwoven. In some ways our main character is irrelevant as the story rides on those he encounters, in other ways he is the gathering point, the lens and observer thorugh which we come to know the streets.
  • The interweaving characters – The ambiguous prison ending reminded many of the readers of the ending of Ijaam by Sinaan Anton, and left some wondering if he was hallucinating, foreshadowing his own death with Badriya’s last visit, and the surrealness of the fragrance still in his hands.
  • Saadi Youssef, chair of judges from the Banipal Trust, said: “Khairy Shalaby’s The Lodging House is an outspoken message, in defense of the forgotten, the downtrodden and the poorest of the poor. Before Khairy Shalaby nobody dared to give such a statement.” – But those gathered differed over whether this book presented a defense or simply an intimate portrayal of the characters of the streets.
  • Many questions arose after reading this about Egypt, Egyptian culture and the changes between the Egypt of the book and contemporary Egyptian cities.

For more information:

About the award winning book, author and translator: http://www.banipal.co.uk/downloads/ArabicLitTranslnPrizeResult2007PR.pdf

About the author: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2000/463/profile.htm

A review of the book: http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/egypt/shalaby.htm

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