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House of the Wolf

House of the Wolf: An Egyptian Novel

Ezzat El Kamhawi
Translated by Nancy Roberts
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15m7hhr
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  • Book Info
    House of the Wolf
    Book Description:

    Winner of the 2012 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, this novel is set in an idyllic Egyptian village from the time it was discovered by Muhammad Ali’s mission in the early nineteenth century to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, movingly intertwining events on the world scene with the life dramas of its protagonists. The story opens with the pivotal character, Mubarka al-Fuli, now a grandmother and matriarch, wanting to dictate a letter to God for her grandson to send to the Almighty by email. We are then ushered back in time to Mubarka’s fiery adolescence and her painfully aborted romance with Muntasir, son of the village’s deceased but legendary strongman. The shifting fortunes of the al-Deeb clan affect every aspect of its members’ lives, from their sexual vulnerabilities to the grief of loss, the uncertainties of a changing world, and the heartaches born of betrayal, and love unfulfilled.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-557-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. The al-Deeb Family Tree
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. [Mubarka al-Fouli, who lived to see her grandchildren talk]
    (pp. 1-15)

    Mubarka al-Fouli, who lived to see her grandchildren talking to friends from parts of the globe they’d never seen, started asking them to send messages to God.

    “A little note, just to remind Him of me,” she said to the young boy seated in front of the computer who, with serious mien, prepared a new page and asked her to dictate the note. She began composing a flowery preamble, and the writer of the complaint followed along with her until he burst out laughing over her difficulty in choosing the words. He stopped typing and asked mischievously why she was...

  4. [The people of al-Ish lived for centuries in the bliss of for]
    (pp. 16-27)

    The people of al-Ish lived for centuries in the bliss of forgetfulness, until one day a sudden cloud of dust blew up. It cleared to reveal seven men on horseback with rifles slung over their shoulders and big ledgers in their hands. They were bewildered by the architecture and layout of the village, which had no main square, and every point of which seemed like its center. There were no neighborhoods that were closed off at one end. Instead, every street opened onto another, and every one of them led to the fields. Nor were there any distinctive structures that...

  5. [Mugahid had now moved his evenings out to the new]
    (pp. 28-37)

    Mugahid had now moved his evenings out to the new bride’s house. When he arrived after the final evening prayer, the stove would be ready in front of Badr, along with the shisha and the tea-making paraphernalia. He would take a package of honeyed tobacco and a piece of hashish out of his pocket. Then he would cut the hashish into tiny pieces the size of grains of wheat and bury them in the handful of tobacco in the bowl of the shisha as an awed Badr looked on.

    Mugahid began to make himself completely at home. He would take...

  6. [Hafiza knew the limits of her capacity for allurement and]
    (pp. 38-47)

    Hafiza knew the limits of her capacity for allurement and Mugahid’s capacity to respond. She made no attempt to enter into a competition with the silent enchantress who, with a single look, could ensnare not only men, but women as well.

    Instead she tried to get closer to Mugahid by talking to him about their children’s affairs whenever he passed by to ask after them. She also reminded him of the presence of the hunchbacked Nagiya, who appeared to have no hope of finding a husband, and whose brothers wouldn’t think of marrying before she did.

    She was emboldened to...

  7. [Al-Ish was inundated by the flood.]
    (pp. 48-54)

    Al-Ish was inundated by the flood.

    As the waters overran the shores of the irrigation canal, piles of harvested corn floated about and cotton plants were submerged. Alongside dead grasses and dry corn leaves, white tufts of cotton floated like lamps on the frothy, turbid water as it invaded the houses. Ducks and geese swam, while the dead bodies of rabbits and featherless baby birds sank to the bottom. The villagers began evacuating young children and the elderly on the backs of buffalos to Mit Suhayl and al-Balashun. These towns, to the north and south of al-Ish, had suffered less...

  8. [The people of al-Ish took pride in their forebears’ success in]
    (pp. 55-63)

    The people of al-Ish took pride in their forebears’ success in draining the swamp and reclaiming its land, which they had divided among themselves by mutual consent. They also took pride in the fact that they’d been able to establish the renown of their own local saint alongside two other extraordinary men of God. They’d managed to turn the mulid celebration associated with their “silent sheikh” into the third of three mulid celebrations in the region, the other two being that of Sheikh Guda at Minya al-Qamh and Sheikh Sa‘ dun at Bilbeis. Not once over the course of an...

  9. [Badr died alone in his house during the curfew that had been]
    (pp. 64-72)

    Badr sdied alone in his house during the curfew that had been imposed on al-Ish, and his son-in-law only learned of his death when he failed to show up for prayers in the mosque two days in a row. When he went to check on him, he was met by the odor of the disintegrating corpse.

    When Mugahid left Mubarka and went back to his wife and children, Badr had continued visiting his daughter every night after the final evening prayer to make sure she was all right, but he’d received no welcome from her. Instead, she left it to...

  10. [Time closed chapters that no one had ever imagined could be]
    (pp. 73-83)

    Time closed chapters that no one had ever imagined could be closed, such as memories of the plague, the cholera epidemic, the destruction wrought by the flood, and even the story of the Turkish family that had lived in al-Ish for nearly a century but whose stay there now seemed, to those who remembered it, like the passing of a cloud. However, the passing of the days hadn’t succeeded in erasing the image of a certain medium-sized young man with a moon face and a bull’s neck inherited from his father.

    Muntasir had remained etched not only in the memories...

  11. [One of the two boys was fighting in the war, and the other]
    (pp. 84-90)

    One of the two boys was fighting in the war, and the other was hiding from it. Mugahid threw himself into work like someone discovering a new pleasure. Ali, who had learned everything he knew about farming from Muntasir and Salama when he was a little boy, was amazed when he saw how little experience his father had. However, he was pleased with the signs of kindheartedness that he’d begun observing in a man he had once feared more than death.

    He remembered how his father had mercilessly left him to work in the field when he was Mansur’s age....

  12. [When the occupation authority’s raids on al-Ish came to]
    (pp. 91-98)

    When the occupation authority’s raids on al-Ish came to an end, Nagi emerged from his hideout. When Mubarka brought him the washbasin and a cooking pot filled with hot water so that he could bathe in an ordinary room, he began looking at his body in the light and getting reacquainted with it. Wet from his final bath in Mubarka’s house, he bundled up the clothes she’d gathered for him, bade farewell to the shadowy paradise, and headed back to the farmhouse.

    “We’ve gotten used to having you around, Nagi,” said Mubarka, unable to conceal the shudder that came rushing...

  13. [Salama al-Deeb returned from the war after four years that had]
    (pp. 99-106)

    Salama al-Deeb returned from the war after four years that had left nothing but a faint trace of his old features. If it hadn’t been for the thick eyebrows and black eyes that marked him as a member of the Deeb family, Hafiza wouldn’t have known that the scrawny, middle-aged-looking man she saw before her was her son, who had been as huge as a bull when he left.

    The celebrations that were held in honor of his return went on for seven days, during which time they slaughtered everything that moved on the farm with the exception of two...

  14. [As Mugahid and Salama were making arrangements for]
    (pp. 107-114)

    As Mugahid and Salama were making arrangements for Nagi’s engagement to Zakiya al-Gahsh, Nagi had been stealing into Mubarka’s room, and was now immersed with her in another world.

    She hadn’t needed the ravenous looks of collusion over dinner. Rather, she had already been prepared for the stealthy visit he paid her after the two other men had left the house, Hafiza and Tafida had gone to bed, and Ali had lost his mind in Mas‘ada’s arms the way he did every night.

    “It’s all right. It’s something that’s got to be done, you know,” she whispered to him as...

  15. [After the hasty departure of Ismet, al-Ish’s third Turkish]
    (pp. 115-123)

    After the hasty departure of Ismet, al-Ish’s third Turkish mayor, the authorities showed no interest in appointing a new one, and the village enjoyed a return to being unknown and forgotten the way it had been for the first three centuries of its existence. However, the authorities continued to pay the salaries of a generation of sentries, each of whom hid his weapon in a safe place in case he might need it. They went back to taking care of their farms, happy to have the additional income, and one of them would go pick up the salaries in Bilbeis...

  16. [When Ali saw the place that had been suggested to him as]
    (pp. 124-130)

    When Ali saw the place that had been suggested to him as his bedroom in the mansion, he refused to move, preferring his room on the farmhouse roof over this prison with its stingily meted-out spaces. The worst thing about the mansion was that, being built from stone, it had an echo that made sounds much louder than they would be otherwise.

    “This is a personal matter, Mr. Mayor. I mean, can you imagine Mas‘ ada’s snore being four times louder than it is now?” He said it with a touch of ironic humor lest Salama be angry over his...

  17. [The children’s shouting and rowdy games didn’t give the evil]
    (pp. 131-140)

    The children’s shouting and rowdy games didn’t give the evil spirits a chance to appear anywhere in the mansion, which had expanded thanks to rooms that had been added in the backyard and on the roof. Nor did Salama get a chance any more to close his eyes after lunch and take a break from the tiring tasks of managing the family business and fulfilling his mayoral responsibilities, which had increased after the provincial government installed telephone lines. They had placed one of the remarkable gadgets in the guardhouse, which was now dubbed “the telephone.” The new marvel might ring...

  18. [Salama served as mayor of al-Ish for ten years, during which]
    (pp. 141-149)

    Salama served as mayor of al-Ish for ten years, during which time he tasted the bitterness of power more than its sweetness. Nevertheless, he came to understand the responsibility that went with his stature.

    He wouldn’t have minded if al-Ish had gone without a mayor forever. However, if there was going to be a mayor, it would have been unthinkable for the position to go to anyone but him. Then the unthinkable happened when the government changed hands in Cairo and the new leaders chose their interior minister, Abd al-Raziq Asfur, as al-Ish’s new mayor. Like Salama, Asfur was in...

  19. [Before the second European war had decided the fate of any]
    (pp. 150-158)

    Before the second European war had decided the fate of any of the warring parties, it destroyed Mubarka’s queenly realm. The Egyptian government was in alliance with Britain by virtue of a binding agreement, while the Egyptians themselves were cheering for the Germans. “Go, Rommel!” they cried in celebration of the German commander who had crossed the desert with his soldiers from Libya’s Burqa province to al-Alamein. Salama had begun thinking that the boys would have to come back from Zagazig for fear of bombing, invasion, and bullying by British soldiers in the city streets, whereas the villages remained immune...

  20. [Mugahid lived ninety years, and died on the day the may]
    (pp. 159-169)

    Mugahid lived ninety years, and died on the day the mayorship was restored to his son. His funeral procession was headed by the district commissioner and his four officers, and condolences were received by thirty-nine sons and grandsons. Salama had been sitting on the bench by the mango tree next to the mansion door drinking his late-afternoon coffee when the British forced the king once again to summon the majority leader, Nahhas Pasha, and assign him the task of forming a new ministry. The British High Commissioner was angered over the minority parties’ inability to keep Egyptian hostility toward his...

  21. [When she caught sight of al-Ish, hunchbacked Nagiya]
    (pp. 170-178)

    When she caught sight of al-Ish, hunchbacked Nagiya felt a trepidation she hadn’t felt years earlier when her father left her with two strange men. She began thinking about what a shock it would be to meet people again. Who had left? Who had stayed? Would she be remembered by the people who’d worked so hard to forget she existed when she’d lived among them? She skipped in front of her daughter along the village’s nowpaved main road. It was still flanked on either side by the same old beech oaks, which had withered and aged to the point where...

  22. [Mubarka stood on the veranda eyeing the raucous children]
    (pp. 179-186)

    Mubarka stood on the veranda eyeing the raucous children with a satisfaction that encased a smoldering ember of sorrow. For, although her surviving children may have taken revenge on death for her, the new children hadn’t erased the pain she felt over those who had passed away. In fact, she could hardly distinguish in her grief between her own children and those of Mas‘ada and Tafida, who had spent more of their lives with her in Zagazig than they had with their own mothers.

    It had become clear that Salama’s belated discovery of the pleasure of marriage wasn’t going to...

  23. [Every one of the four women still living in the mansion knew]
    (pp. 187-193)

    Every one of the four women still living in the mansion knew what was required of her from the time she woke up in the morning. The family didn’t have enough money to hire household help any more. Besides, there was no longer any need to employ other women to help them, since, unlike the past, there were no visiting merchants arriving as guests, nor factory workers to feed.

    After finishing their chores they would eat breakfast with Salama before he left for the fabric shop. Then they would sit around mending clothes or spinning wool that had been shorn...

  24. [When Colonel Salem al-Deeb returned from Yemen]
    (pp. 194-200)

    When Colonel Salem al-Deeb returned from Yemen wrapped in a flag whose color he’d helped to change from green to the colors of death—black, white, and red—Mubarka, known now as Hagga Mubarka since making the pilgrimage to Mecca, gestured to the military band to stand away from the casket, refusing to allow the soldiers to lower him into the grave.

    “You’ve done your part and killed him. Now leave the burying to us!” she shouted as she blocked the grave. As the commander ordered his soldiers to step back, Mubarka gestured to al-Ish’s crippled gravedigger, who was terrified...

  25. [Adel never managed to finish high school. He passed all his]
    (pp. 201-207)

    Adel never managed to finish high school. He passed all his subjects with the exception of French. What they were asked to learn in the subject was so minimal it was virtually useless, and other students considered it an opportunity to improve their grades. So they laughed at Adel when they heard him say mournfully, “If it weren’t for French, high school would be a piece of cake!”

    Contenting himself with his middle-school diploma, he applied for work as a mail carrier. But after getting the job he didn’t deliver a single letter. Sporting a stylish European gilbab, he would...

  26. [The young men returned from university. But as they were]
    (pp. 208-217)

    The young men returned from university. But as they were drawn one after another to Cairo, life didn’t return to the mansion the way it had in summers past.

    After her uncle Salem, Atiya was the first person in the al-Deeb family to graduate from high school. However, she finished two years late. In one of the two years she hadn’t taken her examinations because of the murder, and in the other she failed them after switching to the home-schooling system. In so doing she left behind the boys in her class, only a few of whom had managed to...

  27. [Not once in his life had Salama chosen the wrong time to]
    (pp. 218-224)

    Not once in his life had Salama chosen the wrong time to do anything. But he did choose the wrong time to die.

    He had been lying on his deathbed, propped up by Mas‘ada, as his half-brother Mahmoud, Hagga Mubarka, and the hunchback monitored his feeble panting, when suddenly the television interrupted the program that was on and began broadcasting Qur’anic recitations.

    He pushed away the glass of lemonade that Mas‘ada was holding for him, so she dipped a couple of fingers in the glass and wet his lips. He gestured to those gathered around him and they laid him...

  28. [People in the village received the announcement of the cross]
    (pp. 225-232)

    People in the village received the announcement of the crossing with caution, fearful that it might be a new ruse. The deception they had witnessed in the early days of the Naksa was still fresh in their minds, and the Israeli radio broadcast that could be heard clearly in al-Ish asserted every day that if Egypt risked an attempt to storm the mine-infested land barrier on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal, the canal would turn into a lake of blood filled with Egyptian soldiers’ napalm-roasted flesh. However, people heard a ring of truth in the announcements that followed,...

  29. [Sadat walked down the airplane steps after his return from]
    (pp. 233-242)

    Sadat walked down the airplane steps after his return from Jerusalem, behind him ten prisoners of war who’d been listed among the missing. The camera began panning over them. Mas‘ada gasped and sank to the floor when she saw Adel’s face filling the television screen in front of her.

    The president was proud of his trip, feeling that he’d achieved a new victory by going to the Knesset and challenging the Israelis to pursue peace. So as not to arrive empty-handed, he’d taken with him an Israeli prisoner he’d pardoned, and the Israelis had responded with a gift of their...

  30. [After Hagg Mahmoud’s death, al-Ish went back to being]
    (pp. 243-252)

    After Hagg Mahmoud’s death, al-Ish went back to being mayorless. It didn’t revert to being unknown the way it had been before it was discovered by Muhammad Ali’s mission in the early nineteenth century, but the government no longer saw any need to concern itself with the villages. Nor did al-Ish enjoy the state of equality it had experienced before the khedive established its place on the map. On the contrary, money earned by those who had gone to work in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates began pouring into the village during the summer vacations, one outcome of which...

  31. [Atiya heard a knock on the door, but when she got up to]
    (pp. 253-258)

    Atiya heard a knock on the door, but when she got up to open it, no one was there.

    “Who’s there?” she called.

    “Yusuf,” someone answered. “Get up and go bury your grandmother.”

    Then she heard the sound of feet going down the stairs.

    When she woke up the next morning she remembered clearly what had happened, but didn’t know whether it had been real or a dream. And the person she’d heard speaking—had it been her father, whom she’d never seen? Or was it Yusuf Abd al-Maqsud? In any case, she responded to the summons, hoping that the...

  32. [Hagga Mubarka was sitting on the bench in front of the]
    (pp. 259-266)

    Hagga Mubarka was sitting on the bench in front of the mansion wall in the timid March sun, when suddenly there wafted in her direction a breeze laden with a scent that had nested in her memory for she didn’t know how many years.

    As she sniffed the air, the intensifying waves left her no room for doubt. Then she saw someone approaching with a small backpack slung over his shoulder. She felt blood gushing through her lifeless veins. Her hands trembled so violently that they started knocking against each other in front of her chest, and she let out...

  33. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 267-272)
  34. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-273)