It gives me great pleasure to introduce a brand new fiction imprint of The American University in Cairo Press, Hoopoe Fiction.
Hoopoe Fiction specialise in stories from the Middle East and as I’ve loved going to Egypt in the past and have lived and worked in New York, I thought I’d share an extract from one of the first books from Hoopoe Fiction that includes both those destinations, Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge by Ezzedine C. Fishere and translated by John Peate. Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge is published by Hoopoe in April 2017 and is available for pre-order here.
Not only do I have an extract, but you can enter to win a paperback copy of Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge at the bottom of this blog post.
Hoopoe is an imprint for engaged, open-minded readers hungry for outstanding fction that challenges headlines, re-imagines histories, and celebrates original storytelling. Through elegant paperback and digital editions, Hoopoe champions bold, contemporary writers from across the Middle East alongside some of the finest, groundbreaking authors of earlier generations. On the Hoopoe website, curious and adventurous readers from around the world will fnd new writing, interviews, and criticism from our authors, translators, and editors.
Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge
On the eve of Salma’s twenty-first birthday, scattered friends and family converge on New York for a celebration organized by Darwish, her obstinate grandfather. Each guest’s journey to this fated gathering takes on an unexpected significance, as they find themselves revisiting the choices they have made in life, and rethinking their relationships with one another and the country in which they live.
Traveling seamlessly between Egypt and the United States, Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge is a story about how we construct and shift our identities, and about a family’s search for home.
An Extract from Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge
He realized he wouldn’t leave much behind. He would die like everyone else did. Those who really loved him would remember him fondly; the rest would remember him the way they wanted. This didn’t matter to him. Darwish was seventy years old, and it actually felt like a blessing to know how much time he had left. It was a chance to put his affairs in order, with his own two hands, and to do what he had forgotten or been too lazy to do. From that time onward, he wouldn’t do anything he didn’t want to. He would flatter no one. He would spend no time on people he didn’t like. He wouldn’t make compromises or long-term plans. There was no long term anymore. He would do all the things he’d put off. He’d live in his remote log cabin on a lake in the woods or the mountains. He’d read books he’d never had time to pick up before. He’d write the book he’d always wanted to write: on the future of the Arabs. He’d spent his whole life studying Arab history. He had always dreamed of writing about their future, but his natural cautiousness prevented him. Now there was no point in being cautious. He would draft the book proposal and meet with the publisher early next week. Once he was in the cabin, he would begin writing.
Though he had spent five years in London writing up his doctoral thesis, he hadn’t met Jane there, but in Cairo, which surprised their small circle of friends. Jane was tall, slim, shapely, and beautiful, with long chestnut-brown hair, which she would either let hang around her shoulders or pin up with whatever was to hand, normally a pencil. She had come to Cairo for a year to learn Arabic, on some scholarship or another. She grew to love the city in all its chaos and ended up settling there. They gradually got to know each other, and grew closer until they ended up more or less living together in an apartment in Giza, behind the zoo.
Jane was a good-hearted, decent sort of person, but her relationship with Egypt was confused. She told Darwish when they first met how much she loved the Egyptian people’s good-naturedness, and their warmth and humanity. She found something in them that she had felt lacking from her life in Britain. He laughed to himself, being someone who actually loved the cool standoffishness of the British, finding in their respect for privacy something he lamented as sorely missing from Egyptian life. They found themselves in reversed positions, as he criticized she defended Egyptian life and people: “Yes, she is lying. From a legal point of view, she’s lying. But it’s not a real lie”; “This is not a weakness, it’s caution”; “No that’s not nepotism, it’s really just an expression of gratitude”; “It’s absolutely not a class thing; it’s a different view of roles and responsibilities.”
He never accepted any of her excuses, never accepted that different rules applied to Arabs. Arabs were not a corrupt offshoot of the rest of humanity. The same rules and moral standards applied to them as to anyone else in the world. Saying anything else was patronizing trash masquerading as sympathy. To accept a lie from an Arab but no one else meant you saw a fundamental weakness in them that the rest of humankind didn’t suffer from. It was treating them as if they were granted permission to be irrational. He told her this, time and time again. Her indulgence of Egyptians and their shortcomings began to aggravate him. He asked her to read their history to understand why they were just like any other people, and how they had ended up the way they had. She would then see that indulging their faults was not the solution. Treating them like responsible grown-ups was. She tolerated, even revelled in their backwardness. Jane said she didn’t have the time to immerse herself in Arab history like that. Enter Albert Hourani. When he gave her the book, she seemed pleased. She did start reading it, but soon gave up, saying it was boring and that she preferred to learn through mixing with people. But she didn’t learn through mixing with people.
In fact, she slid deeper into “idiotic tourist syndrome,” as Darwish diagnosed it. This was an ongoing argument between them, as she believed the real problem was that his way of thinking barred him from recognizing any of the complications unique to Egypt. He would protest that he was born of Egypt’s soil, but he could tell the difference between complications and plain old bad behaviour. In his view, Egyptians needed re-education. Whether it was because of their poverty or ignorance or poor education made no difference to him; the upshot was a deterioration in their moral codes. She would counter that he was the victim of his Western education, which had planted in him this naïve idea that people could be reformed through argument or appeals to conscience. That’s why he fought with everyone all the time: because he preached at them instead of trying to understand them. He would laugh and ask sarcastically whether that was an insult or a compliment, and her face would redden.
About Ezzedine C. Fishere
Ezzedine C. Fishere is an acclaimed Egyptian writer, academic, and diplomat. He has written numerous successful and bestselling novels and he also writes political articles for Arabic, English, and French news outlets. He currently teaches at Dartmouth College in the US, where he lives.
About John Peate
John Peate has studied Arabic in Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, and Oman, as well in the UK, and has a PhD in Arabic linguistics. He has translated numerous authors’ works, has been a university teacher and a BBC journalist, and now works for the US Embassy in London as a media analyst.
For your chance to win a paperback copy of Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge click here. Open internationally. Giveaway closes at UK midnight on Wednesday 22nd March 2017. Good luck!