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The Tent

The Tent

Translated by Anthony Calderbank
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 140
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  • Book Info
    The Tent
    Book Description:

    The Tent is a beautifully written, powerful, and disturbing novel, featuring a host of women characters whose lives are subject to the will of a single, often absent, patriarch and his brutal, foul-mouthed mother. Told through the eyes of a young girl, the lives of the Bedouin and peasant women unfold, revealing the tragedy of the sonless mother and the intolerable heaviness of existence. Set against trackless deserts and star-filled night skies, the story tells of the young girl’s relationship with her distant father and a foreign woman who is well-meaning but ultimately motivated by self-interest. It provides an intimate glimpse inside the women’s quarters, and chronicles their pastimes and preoccupations, their stories and their songs.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-189-1
    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 Introduction
    (pp. ix-x)

    Bedouin have been coming into Egypt’s Eastern Desert for as long as anyone can remember. Long before the Arab armies that brought Islam to Egypt with Amr Ibn al-Aas, tribes had migrated from the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula and Greater Sham (Syria, Jordan, and Palestine) overland through Sinai, or across the Red Sea, to the mainland of Africa. Thus the Bedouin of Egypt’s Eastern Desert have been in contact with the peasants of the Nile Delta for many centuries.

    In the nineteenth century, both French and British observers commented on the unique position of the Bedouin in Egyptian society....

  4. Chapter 1
    (pp. 1-12)

    Every time I closed my eyes I found them. Every time I surrendered my thick, long hair to Sardoub’s tender hand they moved before me in silence. It was as if I had leapt over the high wall, and flown away, moving in and out between the farm buildings until I reached the open land beyond the houses and the wide mud walls. There were the green pastures, and the mountain and the low hills. I watched Mouha tending her goats, and I rode the donkey, and I ran and ran across the desert until I saw the seven palm...

  5. Chapter 2
    (pp. 13-22)

    As the sun started to disappear I felt sorry for myself. Safiya lit the feeble oil lamps in each of the rooms. I climbed up the wrought iron on the window until I reached the drawing of the ghost and looked out at the sky, calm and moonlit, and the pale night. Safiya nudged open my mother’s door, then hesitated for a moment before looking in at her body, which lay motionless on the bed in the darkness. I peered out and looked around. All I could see was the high wall on every side, and the grainstores, small mounds...

  6. Chapter 3
    (pp. 23-26)

    Night swallowed up the day’s commotion and the moon shone down. The frogs croaking in the nearby fields scratched the silence. I crawled with my bandaged leg to the stone steps at the front of the house and listened to her breathing. The door creaked and I heard his footsteps heading toward her room. I pulled my leg out of the way. Sardoub was snoring in the darkness. I moved closer to her door, but I didn’t dare push it open. I just heard the sighs in her voice, which was hoarse with tears. I went back and embraced Safiya’s...

  7. Chapter 4
    (pp. 27-32)

    She was a pale woman despite all the myths about her. I neither loved nor hated her, but I became attached to her because she was my only way out. Ever since the day she set eyes on Khayra’s jet black mane and pure white coat she had spoken that same word ‘biyuti-ful.’

    My father said: “She’s Fatim’s filly, belongs to Father’s little darling. I can’t sell her. Choose any other horse you like.” I put my arms round Khayra’s neck as she stretched over me and shook her mane, and then she licked me as I looked up from...

  8. Chapter 5
    (pp. 33-38)

    Seven nights passed. The moon’s thin crescent became a bisected circle, one half still veiled, the other bright and shining. They prepared the riding camels. Sardoub carried me on her legs. Grandmother Hakima was up at the front, with a slave leading her mount. I was behind, with Rihana and Sasa and the servants and guards and the women in their black face masks. We crossed the agricultural land and then came onto a long path through flat sandy desert. Then we met more irrigated land, half of which was cultivated, and the rest left fallow. We passed again through...

  9. Chapter 6
    (pp. 39-44)

    I went back to climbing trees. Fouz and Safiya’s new home was far across the desert. I looked out toward them sometimes, and cried. I went out most on those bleak, dark nights when there are no stars or moonlight. Mother moved into the single room, which stood all alone on the other side of the thorn bushes. It became her refuge.

    Sardoub picked up her own things and said: “I’m going to stay with her until God takes me away, or cures her.”

    Grandmother Hakima prayed: “May He take you and her away in the same night, and that...

  10. Chapter 7
    (pp. 45-52)

    If, as they say, the desert is a sea, then who plunges into its sands? The camels of course. But the camels have been patient for so long, they have eaten desert thorns and their humps have withered. They have become weary and obstinate and seek revenge for the years of hobbling and haltering and tethering.

    The smell of dust filled the air, and Sigeema said: “Sandstorm . . . the gazelles are bleating.”

    They covered their faces and hid their mouths as the silence descended. There was no sound save the whistling of the wind. The wind blew louder,...

  11. Chapter 8
    (pp. 53-58)

    The soft swells and winding curves of the desert’s body shift and change. The sands creep and the floods trace furrows of sadness across the lonely desert tracks. Those raging sandstorms always carried something away. The wind would whistle and howl and then snatch up a filly or a mule, and sometimes whole tents and pastures. Musallam disappeared, even though he knew the desert like the back of his hand. He knew its night sky and its changing moods, where to set up his tent, and when the clouds would be heavy with rain. He had roamed far to the...

  12. Chapter 9
    (pp. 59-66)

    The mansion and all its rooms were lonely, and the sky was lit up with lights and lamps, and the stars were so faint. I looked for Na’sh and his daughters, I looked for Venus in the gloomy night skies. I looked for the consorts of the moon, but all I could see was pale yellow sky far away, and the light of the lamps reflected in the mirrors spoiled everything. When I told Anne this, she said: “You are untamable. This is civilization.” Then she said with a greater air of practicality: “You’ll get used to everything. Then you...

  13. Chapter 10
    (pp. 67-70)

    I told Anne that Sigeema was dead, that the slave was plucking out the feathers of the old she-falcon crucified on the tent peg. I told her that Musallam had gone away, I told her that Zahwa was wailing, she’d undone her braids, and there was a bird singing, but her heart was bleeding.

    She made a brusque movement of her hand and carried on filling her pages while she asked me questions. I refused to answer. I’d had enough. You write. I watched her write. She wrote about Mouha and Sasa and Sardoub. She wrote about my mother and...

  14. Chapter 11
    (pp. 71-76)

    The days were all very much alike. I had been away so long that a barrier seemed to have fallen between us. I decided to stay in the lemon room. My mother’s bed was still there. I moved Grandmother Hakima’s chest into the room. I smiled. Time is the healer of all pains. I looked at the trunk and there were no bad memories, perhaps even some affection. It didn’t matter anymore. My heart was a lake of dried salt, shimmering in the distance, without waves or life. The walls of the room were full of cracks where the mud...

  15. Chapter 12
    (pp. 77-80)

    “Why don’t you open your windows?” Her beautiful eyes looked at me innocently, and I smiled. For a long time all they had seen on my face were emotionless scowls.

    She was encouraged and came closer. “And why don’t you go out?”

    I would have laughed if I had known how. I stared more carefully at her face. Do you really look like my mother, ya-Samawaat, ya-Nouma, you little girl? Then why don’t I look like her? No, in fact I had become exactly like her. I had entered the chamber of sobbing silence. The same swollen eyes. Maybe that’s...

  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 81-84)