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No One Sleeps in Alexandria

No One Sleeps in Alexandria

Ibrahim Abdel Meguid
Translated by Farouk Abdel Wahab
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    No One Sleeps in Alexandria
    Book Description:

    This sweeping novel depicts the intertwined lives of an assortment of Egyptians—Muslims and Copts, northerners and southerners, men and women—as they begin to settle in Egypt’s great second city, and explores how the Second World War, starting in supposedly faraway Europe, comes crashing down on them, affecting their lives in fateful ways. Central to the novel is the story of a striking friendship between Sheikh Magd al-Din, a devout Muslim with peasant roots in northern Egypt, and Dimyan, a Copt with roots in southern Egypt, in their journey of survival and self-discovery. Woven around this narrative are the stories of other characters, in the city, in the villages, or in the faraway desert, closer to the fields of combat. And then there is the story of Alexandria itself, as written by history, as experienced by its denizens, and as touched by the war. Throughout, the author captures the cadences of everyday life in the Alexandria of the early 1940s, and boldly explores the often delicate question of religious differences in depth and on more than one level. No One Sleeps in Alexandria adds an authentically Egyptian vision of Alexandria to the many literary—but mainly Western—Alexandrias we know already: it may be the same space in which Cavafy, Forster, and Durrell move but it is certainly not the same world.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-182-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Translator’s Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Chapter 1
    (pp. 1-4)

    Hitler is pacing around the chancellery in Berlin, stooped slightly forward and hands clasped behind his back, in a state of deep reflection. His lips are pursed, which makes his mustache appear a little askew. His eyes are open wide with vexation, which makes them twinkle all the more. But in fact, his chest and head are about to explode. He is totally oblivious to the Chancellery guards standing at their posts and to his own bodyguards following behind him. He is wishing he could wring the Polish president’s neck.

    Today is August 25, a clear day in Berlin. Hitler...

  5. Chapter 2
    (pp. 5-12)

    On Magd al-Din’s last night, he sat silently amid his family. They were looking at him, incredulous. But he simply sat there, seeming not to have changed at all. He was forty but looked twenty, with an elongated face, strong features, well-defined cheek bones, green eyes, and the hair blond but always covered by a white skullcap. His body retained the strength of a younger man.

    “Why won’t you let us fight?” One of his three sisters’ husbands asked. “We can fight the whole village if we have to. We still have some old weapons, and we are men.”


  6. Chapter 3
    (pp. 13-20)

    The railroad station that evening, like all evenings, was empty except for the poor stationmaster, who could not leave until after the last train, at ten o’clock. And as on other evenings the platform was a structure of wide, lifeless slabs of stone, and the sign bearing the name of the village was off-white, with faint black lines, and mounted on two rusted iron poles. Not a single sparrow perched on the sign or flew near it.

    There were no sparrows in the nearby trees either. The four rails between the two platforms were black and shiny, but congealed fuel...

  7. Chapter 4
    (pp. 21-28)

    “It’s hard arriving in a city at night,” said the short man to his companion as they passed Magd al-Din on their way to the door of the car. Magd al-Din did not listen to the response of the companion; in fact, he did not respond. “Wake up, Zahra. We’re in Alexandria,” said Magd al-Din as he shook his wife’s shoulder. She awoke, slightly disoriented. “God protect us,” she said to herself. She felt her head and found her black head cover in place. She felt her chest and found the money under her clothes. She stared at Magd al-Din,...

  8. Chapter 5
    (pp. 29-38)

    It seemed that everything was ready to accommodate Magd al-Din and Zahra. At night Bahi told them that the landlord, Khawaga Dimitri, was a good man who lived on the second floor in two rooms, next to which was a separate room that he could rent to them. They found out from him that a woman by the name of Lula lived with her husband in the room across the hall from his own. Bahi told them also that he would let them sleep in his room that night and that he would go out and sleep in the entryway...

  9. Chapter 6
    (pp. 39-50)

    Did Alexander know that he was building not just a city to immortalize his name, but a whole world and a whole history? Probably: he was concerned not just with immortality, but with changing the world.

    The distance from Pharos Island, now Anfushi, to Rhakotis, now Karmuz, took one hour on foot. It must have taken the same amount of time in the old days, because there were no buildings to walk around. The land was flat and sandy. Therefore when Alexander stopped his horse in Rhakotis, he was able to see the farthest spot in the sea, Pharos, and...

  10. Chapter 7
    (pp. 51-58)

    Ban Street was now almost deserted except for the police. A security force with clubs and shields had been dispatched and took up positions on both sides of the street. A big paddy wagon stood there, filled with peasants and southerners alike. The soldiers were still chasing the brawlers in the alleys and bringing some of them back to the paddy wagon. Women were watching through closed windows; men and boys stood in the doorways. The sound of an ambulance came from the direction of Karmuz. A woman collapsed on the ground near Bahi, crying silently. She was barefoot, her...

  11. Chapter 8
    (pp. 59-72)

    Pompey’s Pillar is the name of the huge column erected by Alexandrians to immortalize the memory of the Roman emperor Diocletian. They dedicated it to him as a gift, in appreciation for the prosperity they had enjoyed under him, forgetting that it was Diocletian who had persecuted them most, and persecuted the Christians in Egypt and Palestine in general.

    Pompey’s Pillar is in the middle of Rhakotis, almost in the exact midpoint of Karmuz Street. The pillar is separated from the street by a wall that surrounds the whole archaeological site. To the left of the relics of Kom al-Shuqafa...

  12. Chapter 9
    (pp. 73-88)

    During the feast at the end of Ramadan, Magd al-Din found out for sure that he had lost his land. His brother-in-law visited him and learned of Bahi’s death. Magd al-Din told him to spare his mother the trouble of coming to visit her son’s tomb or better still, not to tell her at all. His brother-in-law told him about a project for an expressway that would go through the village and many people’s property, including Magd al-Din’s, and that no one could expect adequate compensation, and the mayor was behind the project. Magd al-Din remembered Bahi telling him to...

  13. Chapter 10
    (pp. 89-100)

    The bells of the church of Mari Girgis on Rand Street rang for the Christmas Eve mass. On the following day, Copts began celebrating Christmas. Young people went out dressed in their best, and so did the adults. The air was filled with the smell of cheap perfume, worn by people on their way to church or looking out of the windows of many houses. The joyous mood spread to young Muslim men and women, and many Muslim families went out to visit their Coptic neighbors to wish them a merry Christmas. Zahra saw Camilla, Yvonne, and their mother—three...

  14. Chapter 11
    (pp. 101-110)

    This day has a different flavor, and it is whiter than any other day before it. This is what Magd al-Din felt, the light pouring down on his face as he left the house in the morning.

    He paused for a little while on the threshold and looked right and left. The street was deserted except for three persons, one at the end of the street to the right and the other two heading for Sidi Karim. People were still asleep or were awake but had not left their houses yet. Every day the summer sun brought the morning in...

  15. Chapter 12
    (pp. 111-120)

    Magd al-Din came back from work, as he did every day since he had started the new job, his hands stained with fuel oil, his back, arms, and legs exhausted, and aching all over. As usual he sat down on the bed, his feet dangling, as Zahra sat on the floor and pulled off his shoes and placed his feet in a small washbasin filled with hot water and salt.

    “Are you going to bathe now?”

    “Yes. Give me some kerosene, too, to clean my hands.”

    She poured some kerosene from a can into a small jug and gave it...

  16. Chapter 13
    (pp. 121-130)

    The whole city was busy worrying and talking about the six-hour air raid. The morning saw corpses on Rahma Street, lined up peacefully as if someone had arranged them lovingly on the ground during the night. Fires continued to burn in Bab Sidra for a whole day, despite the efforts of the fire fighters and rescue workers who converged on the site, but it took too long to extricate the bodies from the rubble. Karmuz Street and the side streets filled with people from all over the city who came to help with the rescue or to see for themselves...

  17. Chapter 14
    (pp. 131-140)

    Lunch break is from noon to 2 p.m. Workers who live in the Railroad Authority housing one mile away usually go home for lunch and a short rest, then come back to work. On many days Magd al-Din opted not go home for lunch even though his house was closer to work than those of his co-workers. As a peasant he was used to eating his lunch in the field. Now he was bringing lunch with him most days and staying alone at the post, whose location and wooden walls made it a comfortable place to rest in both summer...

  18. Chapter 15
    (pp. 141-154)

    Japan attacked Indochina, expanding its war along the western and southern coast of Asia, since it was already at war with China. The Japanese giant was restless, and it began to stretch and spew forth its fire. America saw Japan’s military power and ventures as a threat and began to stand on guard. People everywhere began to realize that the entire globe would soon be engulfed in the flames of war.

    In Egypt, British planes attacked the new Italian positions in Sidi Barraní, in raids that lasted four hours and extended into Benghazi to hit the Italians’ lines of communication....

  19. Chapter 16
    (pp. 155-166)

    The year was nearing its end. Rain came down on Alexandria in buckets. It seemed that Alexandria was not going to celebrate the new year, that the lights would not be turned off exactly at midnight—they were already off. Nobody was going to throw empty bottles or old pottery and ceramics from the windows to bid the old year farewell and to hope for a better new year. It seemed that neither the Monsignor, Excelsior, and Louvre nightclubs nor casinos like the Shatbi, the Miramar, the Windsor, the Hollywood, the Kit Kat, or any of the others would celebrate...

  20. Chapter 17
    (pp. 167-174)

    There was a lot of work the last few days of winter, as cold air seared the faces in the early morning. The wind grew worse, especially after Magd al-Din and Dimyan went beyond the wall to the wide open space above the railroad tracks. There the month of Amshir had a chance to show itself in its true colors, as eddies whirled the dust suddenly, letting loose the cold wind, after which crazy rain poured down from a cloud that had raced in from some distant place. On their usual morning route, Magd al-Din and Dimyan no longer felt...

  21. Chapter 18
    (pp. 175-182)

    It was Mahmudiya Canal that created Alexandria in the modern era. Muhammad Ali Pasha issued his sublime decree to dig it in the year 1819 and ordered the governors of the various provinces to round up peasants to work on it. The governors would tie them up with rope and bring them by ship. Many died of exhaustion and hunger. Those who died were buried where they fell, dirt was piled over them, and the rest were marched on. Many of those buried were still alive, only exhausted, and the governors ordered them buried. So the earth claimed bodies whose...

  22. Chapter 19
    (pp. 183-196)

    The spring offensive started in Europe. The ice had begun to melt on the mountains, and the fog had dissipated over the land. Fires burned, and Berlin and Hamburg suffered devastating air raids by the British. English cities in turn were devastated by raids as Germany began to carry out a new offensive against ports. British ports were subjected to intensive raids, some of which lasted three consecutive nights, as happened in Portsmouth and Manchester, where casualties reached more than two thousand. At the same time, German submarines began to use the wolf-pack method: a group of submarines would simultaneously...

  23. Chapter 20
    (pp. 197-210)

    “I’ve chosen Magd al-Din and Dimyan for al-Alamein,” said Usta Ghibriyal during the break. Everyone fell silent and looked at the floor. True, it was not their doing, but none of them had stepped forward, to move to al-Alamein. So it was only fair for Usta Ghibriyal to choose those two workers who had not yet completed one year on the job. Magd al-Din and Dimyan were sitting next to each other at the time. They had been expecting to be chosen. Magd al-Din said to himself that now Zahra had to go back to the village. As for Dimyan,...

  24. Chapter 21
    (pp. 211-220)

    The Maryut coast—or the Libyan coast, as the ancient Carthaginians called it—extending from Alexandria to Sallum, before it enters Libya, is the forgotten coast in Egypt. It is where Magd al-Din and Dimyan were going this morning. Off the coast lies the Mediterranean, bluer than in Alexandria, with clear water that reveals rocks and sand, enticing you to hold out your hands and scoop up water to drink, and forget that the water is salty. The coast, for whoever hears of or sees it, is the desert itself. It is a barren coast, beyond which the desert extends...

  25. Chapter 22
    (pp. 221-230)

    Magd al-Din had never before seen such an arid expanse before, True, there is open space in the countryside, but it is an expanse of soft green fields teeming with birds flying and humans playing or working peacefully. Next to the water wheels you can see children having fun, animals sleeping, women talking, old men playing tictac-toe, and ducks splashing in the water on which willows cast their shadows, while on the land, camphor, sycamore, and oak trees cast theirs. Now as Magd al-Din stood on the short, low platform of al-Alamein. railway station next to Dimyan, he was seeing...

  26. Chapter 23
    (pp. 231-238)

    Before the offensive against Russia, the F€uhrer had told his military commanders that Russian soldiers were not to be treated as prisoners of war, but that they were to be killed. After the attack the world heard Churchill’s speech on the BBC, and his words were spread far and wide: “We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight in the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall...

  27. Chapter 24
    (pp. 239-254)

    Dimyan announced that as of tomorrow he would not eat corned beef, meat, eggs, cheese, or anything of animal origin except fish. As of tomorrow the fast of the Virgin, which lasts two weeks, would begin.

    The morrow was the seventh of August and the first day of the Coptic month of Misra. Dimyan noticed that Magd al-Din was a little lost in thought so he added, “Remember what I told you about the big fast, our holiest one that ends with Easter? This one about to start is the fast of the Virgin. There’s also the Nativity fast, which...

  28. Chapter 25
    (pp. 255-266)

    The new year started with a big commotion in al-Alamein. German and Italian planes conducted raids on the desert all the way to Alexandria. Anti-aircraft artillery scattered all over the desert kept firing, but no planes were hit.

    The number of German and Italian prisoners of war being captured dwindled. It was Rommel now who was trans-porting more prisoners to Germany via Italy and the Mediterranean. Rommel’s name now struck fear in the Allied troops. In the middle of January, in the early hours of the morning, Rommel turned off the little reading light and lay down on the bed...

  29. Chapter 26
    (pp. 267-284)

    Dimyan arrived in Alexandria on the second of April. On that same day the Jewish Agency and the General Council for the Jews of Palestine issued an appeal. It called on Jewish men and women to volunteer in the Jewish units working with the British army in the Middle East, since there was a dire need for a large number of volunteers of both sexes to serve in the auxiliary regional force. The appeal stated that the first step was to recruit childless unmarried persons between twenty and thirty years of age. “Let the response of the Jews of Palestine...

  30. Chapter 27
    (pp. 285-296)

    Magd al-Din’s heart beat fast as the train approached. “Until when will you lie to me, my feeble heart?” he said to himself. This was happening every day and still no Dimyan, still nothing filled the wilderness around him. Even the great commotion of the armies around him did not fill that emptiness, not the retreat and panic before Rommel, not the long queues of the wounded, transported by trains, not the sorrow in the different-colored eyes of the soldiers, the occasional crying, the silence of the bagpipes, not the dust that filled the air, the planes that came and...

  31. Chapter 28
    (pp. 297-308)

    Hamza left them after two days of rest. He started on his way to Alexandria, going on foot until he reached al-Hammam. He refused to get on any train that had soldiers on it.

    “It’s forty kilometers to al-Hammam, Hamza.”

    “I’ll walk. I’m not riding with any soldiers, ever.” He said that he wanted to take the regular passenger train from al-Hammam.

    Hamza walked on the railroad tracks that reached all the way to Alexandria. This was the only way to arrive safely. When Hamza disappeared in the distance, Magd al-Din and Dimyan thought about the big world and all...

  32. Chapter 29
    (pp. 309-316)

    Rommel did not succeed in breaking through the front in al-Alamein. For six days he tried, to no avail. He lost three thousand officers and soldiers, either killed, wounded, or taken prisoner, and seven hundred armored vehicles, including fifty tanks. The Allies lost sixteen hundred officers and soldiers, and seventy tanks. Air superiority and short supply lines ensured victory for the Allies. That was Rommel’s first defeat in the desert. Soldiers in the Eighth Army now realized that Rommel was not a legend, but a military commander who could win or lose.

    Montgomery took advantage of the situation and continued...

  33. Back Matter
    (pp. 317-318)