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City of Love and Ashes

City of Love and Ashes

Yusuf Idris
Translated by R. Neil Hewison
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 175
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  • Book Info
    City of Love and Ashes
    Book Description:

    Cairo, January 1952. Egypt is at a critical point in its modern history, struggling to throw off the yoke of the seventy-year British occupation and its corrupt royalist allies. Hamza is a committed young radical, his goal to build a secret armed brigade to fight for freedom, independence, and national self-esteem. Fawziya is a woman with a mission too, keen to support the cause. Among the ashes of the city love may grow, but at a time of national struggle what place do personal feelings have beside the greater love for a shackled homeland? In this finely crafted novel, Yusuf Idris, best known as the master of the Arabic short story, brings to life not only some of the most human characters in modern Arabic fiction but the soul of Cairo itself and the soul of a national consciousness focused on liberation. ‘’Like the Russian aristocrats of Chekhov, the provincial bourgeoisie of Flaubert, or the Ibo villagers of Achebe, Idris raises his authentic characters into convincing types within their context: he makes us live their agonies and hopes.’’—Ferial Ghazoul

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-204-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Translator’s Note
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Chapter 1
    (pp. 1-8)

    The tram terminal in Shubra al-Balad is more than just the beginning of a tramline. It is a pivot of constant interplay between Cairo and its suburbs, between the city and the many factories scattered around it. You see village folk here coming to the capital, awestruck by the city, breathless at the drone of the great bustle and the new world. You see sullen workers in the bustle too, resentful of the city but unable to escape it.

    And—on this particular January day—you see Hamza standing as usual waiting for the tram to leave the long tail...

  5. Chapter 2
    (pp. 9-10)

    At four o’clock the next day the camp was animated by the presence of ten young men in training fatigues. The ground shook under their feet as they marched up and down in file. Every now and then their trainer screeched his orders. Hamza and the young man were down in the ditch, each with an adz, digging deeper wherever it was not deep enough.

    As he shoveled away the soft earth, Hamza raised his head and saw her. Only then did he remember it was time for their appointment. He experienced a certain pleasure as he watched her vague...

  6. Chapter 3
    (pp. 11-14)

    The next evening, Hamza was sitting in a café in al-Qarin, in Sharqiya District. The café was in the center of the village on a square that appeared by accident among the houses and was never meant to be a square.

    At that time, al-Qarin lived on the news of battles, stories of valor, the preparations of the English—and was mobilizing a strike against them. Hamza had just concluded an arms deal: three machine guns, five pistols, and a box of ammunition. They would be delivered in Cairo early on Sunday morning.

    Evening in a village like this was...

  7. Chapter 4
    (pp. 15-24)

    Hamza spent miserable, suffocating days in the luxurious apartment, pacing up and down like a ricocheting bullet.

    The newspapers that he devoted himself to all day contained nothing at all. News of the battalions and of the battle had disappeared completely. Instead the papers overflowed with messages of support from businessmen and companies for the new prime minister, savior of the country and protector of the nation’s integrity—the same businessmen and companies who in the days of the armed struggle had missed no occasion to declare their total support for the Fedayeen and to donate to the battalions.


  8. Chapter 5
    (pp. 25-30)

    The next day, at around five o’clock, the doorbell rang. Bedeir had gone out to work after lunch. Hamza opened the door and was surprised to see Fawziya standing there in front of him. Walking in, she smiled and said, “All the way here I was worried I’d get the wrong apartment, but I found it. You see, I was at a friend’s house here in Dokki, so I thought I’d stop by and see where the place was.”

    Hamza did not believe her excuse, but also he did not know the secret of the deep peace her arrival had...

  9. Chapter 6
    (pp. 31-40)

    At six-thirty in the morning Hamza awoke suddenly, quite shaken, as though terrible things had happened while he was asleep. A moment later he realized that what had woken him was the doorbell, which was ringing continuously.

    And in the next few seconds he pulled himself fully awake and was ready to face danger. He shook the mass of fat and flesh that was Mr. Bedeir, lying next to him, in a vain effort to wake him. Only yelling and wailing succeeded in rousing Bedeir to the fact that the doorbell was ringing, and finally, halfway between wakefulness and sleep,...

  10. Chapter 7
    (pp. 41-54)

    When he was finally back in Bedeir’s apartment he sat in the armchair and placed the suitcase beside him on the carpet. He went over in his mind the details of what had happened since he had left the Bab ab-Wazir cemetery for Abbasiya, where his friend Sayyid Muhammad Rushdi lived. Even as he was going up the stairs with the suitcase to ask Rushdi to keep it at his house he was almost certain what would happen and could almost have predicted Rushdi’s discomfort, his going out and coming back into the room several times as they sat there,...

  11. Chapter 8
    (pp. 55-60)

    Hamza talked, and recent history flowed from his lips and drowned Fawziya in a flood of incidents, situations, and memories. His fingers twitched as they defined and shaped, his hands signaled semaphore, his eyebrows met and parted, his glasses quivered, his intonation wavered and trembled as if it were not merely pronouncing words but also performing a tempestuous melody to accompany what was happening and immortalize the narratives.

    His talk filled the room with events. The furniture was transformed into battlefields, objects into living beings that fought, screamed, and died. This went on for a long time, until Fawziya ceased...

  12. Chapter 9
    (pp. 61-72)

    At seven the next morning Bedeir was still asleep, and Hamza was going about his daily precautions. He opened the study window a fraction and checked on the doormen at the building opposite to make sure their number had not been added to by a secret policeman. Then he cautiously opened the window wide and put his head out to observe the doors of all the houses that stretched in front of him, as well as the ironing shop and the grocer’s. Then he leaned out further to be able to see the row of houses on his side of...

  13. Chapter 10
    (pp. 73-78)

    For at least two hours Hamza did not know where he was, even which part of the globe he lived in. His head was crowded with many thoughts, and he would catch hold of one, only for it to escape and become mixed up with others. He was unable to think of any one particular thing. He had the constant feeling that notions were colliding in his brain and blocking his channels of thought. He recalled parts of the conversation and repeated them—repeating her words particularly carefully and considering them—then replaced them in his memory, cursing angrily.


  14. Chapter 11
    (pp. 79-84)

    To Hamza now the kitchen gave succor, though he did not know where that succor came from. The kitchen, the bathroom, the prison cell, and all other such small boxes of bricks that are barely big enough to accommodate a person— in these places people feel as close as it is possible to be to their own soul, and as soon as they close the door on themselves they sense a strange security, as if there were now a barrier between them and the world and its tragedies. As Hamza prepared the coffee he felt that the kitchen, white and...

  15. Chapter 12
    (pp. 85-94)

    Hamza was supremely curious to know what was in Fawziya’s letter, after the great horrors that had gone before. His anxiety about the envelope in his pocket was natural. He could not possibly wait to know its contents until before he went to sleep, as Fawziya wished, and he soon gathered his worries and said, “You know, I can’t wait—I have to read the letter.”

    Fawziya objected, but he discerned from her expression that she would not be angry, so he carefully took the letter out of his pocket and unhurriedly contemplated the thick envelope, like someone preparing to...

  16. Chapter 13
    (pp. 95-108)

    Hamza put the letter down beside him, frowning, a tragedy on his face. He turned to Fawziya. She had tired of staring (and at the same time trying to hide her stare) at his tiniest changes of expression to discern his reactions to what he was reading. Hamza raised his head as he turned to her, but was silent. She too did not dare speak. Finally, he spoke slowly, the sorrow still on his face.

    “You know what you deserve for this letter?”

    Fawziya was disturbed. “What?”

    Hamza rose suddenly, embraced her, and kissed her. “More than this.”

    “No, listen,...

  17. Chapter 14
    (pp. 109-122)

    “What do you have?”

    “That’s it. The problem’s solved. Sayyid must know a place, or I could even spend the night with him.”

    “Sayyid who?”

    “I’ll tell you in a minute.”

    Hamza ‘looked at his watch, thinking it must be after eleven o’clock, from all the touring around they had been doing, but he was surprised to find it was only a few minutes after nine-thirty. Even so, his hopes were dashed, and his features clouded over—he knew how to find Sayyid during the day when he was at work in the cemetery, but where was he to find...

  18. Chapter 15
    (pp. 123-126)

    The procession returned, to take Fawziya back. Hamza remained silent for a long time, pensive in bewilderment mixed with joy, then carried away by all kinds of feelings. He was thinking about the stand Abu Duma had taken and he was ashamed of himself and the judgments he had made on the man. He was in awe, as if his eyes had opened on a hidden store of unknown truths. Finally, he said to Fawziya, “So you see now why she married him? An amazing man. Every day that passes in the battle I learn many things. My whole life...

  19. Chapter 16
    (pp. 127-132)

    Finally, eventually, Hamza lay down on the comfortable bed and wrapped himself in the camel-wool blankets. Yawning, enjoying being horizontal and warm, he stretched his tired back—it was like devouring a turkey breast after a full day of hunger. His exhaustion had reached that stage where a person longs for any place to be able to collapse in, even if it is the tomb of Daud Pasha himself.

    He imagined he would shiver in fright until the sun came up, screaming at every rustle or sound, but when he was lying down, and his back was relaxed, and his...

  20. Chapter 17
    (pp. 133-136)

    Hamza awoke to something disturbing him, almost blocking his nostrils, and when he marshaled his senses he found it had a beautiful scent.

    He opened his eyes to the half darkness of the room, to the ceiling decorated with fake pharaonic paintings, and to a large, red rose on his nose. Out of the corner of his left eye he glimpsed an elegant woman’s shoe discarded carelessly under the bed opposite. A little above the shoe he saw a small foot, its toes wriggling inside its stocking. It was not far away, so he stretched out his hand and caught...

  21. Chapter 18
    (pp. 137-140)

    That day was one of the warm days that proliferate toward the end of winter, signaling that winter has grown old and that the seeds of spring are germinating inside it, growing and threatening its survival. The sun blazed, its heat and rays racing to reach the earth, ridiculing the aging winter, digging their interminably long fingers into its body, smothering the breath of its storms, conquering its cold, evicting its clouds from the sky. They penetrated even to living things, inducing movement after stillness, security after fear, release after withdrawal, pushing them too to oppose a winter they had...

  22. Chapter 19
    (pp. 141-146)

    On his way to the meeting he saw in people’s faces an early spring, an earnestness in those who had work, and the luster of hope that went with it. People had recovered from the shock of the fire and raised their heads, in fear at first, and begun to whisper rumors. Then the whispers grew louder when some of the rumors turned out to he true and became open talk. The people learned who had started the fire and who was dealing the blows, and when the people identify their enemies they do not hold back. They began to...

  23. About the Author
    (pp. 147-148)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 149-150)