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That Smell and Notes from Prison by Ṣunʻ…
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That Smell and Notes from Prison

by Ṣunʻ Allāh Ibrāhīm

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“In this novella, during the rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser, a young Egyptian writer who had been a political prisoner is released, and he takes a look at the street life in his country.” It has been called Egypt's first post modernist novel.

Like his protagonist, the author had been imprisoned in his native Egypt for five years. When political affiliations changed and Egypt befriended Russia, those imprisoned due to being communists were freed.

We follow the protagonist's first person stream of consciousness in this thankfully very short book as he also has been released from prison under very similar circumstances.

While he was imprisoned, his communist idealizations have become almost commonplace, so his burning drive for change has been removed.

He wanders the streets and neighborhoods of Cairo finding everything different but unchanged, the people unmotivated, uninterested and uninteresting.

“That smell” is the smell of a fart; unacknowledged by the people in the room, but still unavoidably there.

This book was banned and confiscated after the initial printing in Egypt for being “too sexual” although sex outside of masturbation never happens.

The “Notes From Prison” were very short notes that he had written on cigarette papers and had smuggled out. Some of these detail the books he read such as Hemingway and also his desire to become a writer.

This is probably going to be my least favorite novel of the year. Since it was part of a literature seminar, I slogged through. ( )
  streamsong | Mar 12, 2018 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0811220362, Paperback)

That Smell is Sonallah Ibrahim’s modernist masterpiece and one of the most influential Arabic novels. Composed in the wake of a five-year prison sentence, the semi-autobiographical story follows a recently released political prisoner as he wanders through Cairo, adrift in his native city.

That Smell is Sonallah Ibrahim’s modernist masterpiece and one of the most influential novels written in Arabic since WWII. Composed after a five-year term in prison, the semi-autobiographical story follows a recently released political prisoner as he wanders through Cairo, adrift in his native city. Living under house arrest, he tries to write of his tortuous experience, but instead smokes, spies on the neighbors, visits old lovers, and marvels at Egypt’s new consumer culture. Published in 1966, That Smell was immediately banned and the print-run confiscated. The original, uncensored version did not appear in Egypt for another twenty years.

For this edition, translator Robyn Creswell has also included an annotated selection of the author’s Notes from Prison, Ibrahim’s prison diaries—a personal archive comprising hundreds of handwritten notes copied onto Bafra-brand cigarette papers and smuggled out of jail. These stark, intense writings shed unexpected light on the sources and motives of Ibrahim’s groundbreaking novel. Also included in this edition is Ibrahim’s celebrated essay about the writing and reception of That Smell.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:28 -0400)

"One of the most influential Arabic novels of recent times, That Smell is Sonallah Ibrahim's modernist masterpiece. Composed in the wake of a five-year prison sentence, the semi-autobiographical story follows a recently released political prisoner as he wanders through Cairo, adrift in his native city. Published in 1966, the novel was immediately banned. For this edition, the translator Robyn Creswell has also included an annotated selection of Notes from Prison culled from Ibrahim's prison diary -- a personal archive comprising hundreds of handwritten notes scribbled on Bafra-brand cigarette papers. These writings shed unexpected light on Ibrahim's groundbreaking novel."--Publisher's website.… (more)

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