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Rama and the Dragon

Rama and the Dragon

Ferial Ghazoul
John Verlenden
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 340
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  • Book Info
    Rama and the Dragon
    Book Description:

    Rama and the Dragon, a multi-layered novel about the depths of human experience and the struggle between polarities, on the surface presents a love story of unrequited passion between Rama—the symbol of multiplicity and creativity—and Mikhail—the symbol of unity and constancy. Their story reflects the relationship not only between man and woman, Copt and Muslim, but also between Upper and Lower Egypt. Through a delicate grid of intertextual references and juxtaposed narratives, the dreams and hopes, fears and defeats of Rama and Mikhail move from the local to the global, corresponding to human dreams and anxieties everywhere. In this novel, Edwar al-Kharrat has created a unique form of narrative discourse in which he presents Egyptian realities and actualities of the 1960s and 1970s, with flashbacks to as early as the 1940s, in an aesthetic form that highlights historical moments while blending philosophical, mythical, and psychological perspectives in a literary parallel to the cinematic technique of montage. In their citation awarding al-Kharrat the Mahfouz Medal, the judges stated: “Rama and the Dragon is considered a breakthrough in the literary history of modern Arabic fiction."

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-187-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Translators’ Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Chapter 1 Mikhail and the Swan
    (pp. 1-16)

    When he entered the narrow square in Agouza where several side streets met—empty, elegant streets shaded by sycamore, mulberry, and camphor trees—his car flashed into that virginal, sunny morning where sprouts of branches basked, joyfully alert, childlike, around the empty square.

    Chirping birds, darting through trees and dozing balconies, made the square feel like countryside, as if the Nile Road, with its narrow and crowded banks — with its charging cars, trolleys, and buses — lay in a different world.

    The morning air, thickening but still taut with dew, gushed inside the car’s window as he turned the steering wheel...

  5. Chapter 2 A Boat at the End of the Lake
    (pp. 17-34)

    When earth became illuminated and morning arose, I went down to the pond. There I saw a woman, not of human progeny. I shuddered to look at her. Her skin was tender, soft. Her love persists in my flesh.

    Light filtered through the world’s ceiling—lambent behind white clouds. Behind the clouds lay a low building, the Auberge. The sun’s blaze and gusts of salty wind had engraved tiny dots in its gray stone, in the interlaced planks of its wide gates. The glass windows in front were shut with curtains drawn. A delicate fence meandered roundabout, broken here and...

  6. Chapter 3 Narrow Stairway and the Dragon
    (pp. 35-52)

    Columns of light and dark silence incline his way, clamping onto him in the late drizzly evening. The road in front of them lies open, empty, obscure. Stretches of a clean, charted world, freshly deserted, start flashing in the scant, watery darkness—neon advertisements, towering glass buildings.

    He extends his hand to help her alight from the sidewalk. A puddle is in her way. She wears sandals; a slim leather strap passes tightly between her big toe and the rest of her wet, short, fleshy toes. On their nails, a faded red manicure is peeling. The upper curve of her...

  7. Chapter 4 Rama: Asleep Beneath the Moon
    (pp. 53-70)

    She said to him: Do you know that I want to travel with you to a small, sleepy, rugged island with red-leaf trees? Seawater around it to see and feel. Salty air in every corner. Unreachable except by hours of ocean liner travel. Do you know? The two of us beneath a hot dry sun on an old ship—one of those slow, flat ships made of iron and wood? And the two of us living in a white-stone house with fishermen, in a stone harbor where there’s only one café and one grocer, who is also the barber and...

  8. Chapter 5 A Crack in the Old Marble
    (pp. 71-90)

    He was awakened by dream rustle and dawn’s agitation. The room abounded with her—sleeping next to him—naked under the light sheet, her breathing heavy. He felt the moisture of sweat on her leg, conjured the ampleness of her brown, delicate thigh, and smiled.

    Suddenly he was overwhelmed by desire. He rolled over and put his arm gently across her shoulder. She did not fidget. Who could say for sure that she did not feel him, that she did not know in her deep sleep, in her dark womb, his darkly warm glow of closeness and kinship? Her breathing...

  9. Chapter 6 A Broken-Legged Pigeon beneath the Pillars
    (pp. 91-108)

    She leisurely opened her eyes. The morning, locked up in the room, was a satiated, quiet monster. Her relaxed body emitted a sigh of pleasure when stretching its naked, contented limbs. She said once more: Good morning, my darling. With a stolen kiss—a quick alighting of two delicate lips, having the gentleness of a soft-beaked bird pecking at a grain not out of hunger, but out of affluence. She stretched her arms around him, her body becoming taut with rising wakefulness.

    Her eyes, two glittering rock-lakes, had in them this permanent open question, neither admitting nor accepting anything; knowing...

  10. Chapter 7 Isis in a Strange Land
    (pp. 109-126)

    They agreed to meet at the door within ten minutes. Her voice on the phone was cheerful, gay as an adventurous little girl’s.

    He shaved, washed his face, put his hair under the cold water tap. Then he changed his mind, took off his clothes hurriedly and chaotically, throwing them here and there in the unfamiliar bathroom in a manner quite unlike himself. He got into the shower. The water came down on his body splashing and abundant, quickly, as he breathed deeply. He emerged from the shower glowing. A current of renewed youth flowed through him.

    The elevator came...

  11. Chapter 8 The Amazon on White Sand
    (pp. 127-142)

    She said to him: There was almost a brawl between two ferrymen on Raswa’s dock in Manzala, each in his boat and the two boats practically glued to one other. Each man held his long oar like a threatening weapon. Each one insisted that he alone would take me to Port Said, wanting to serveSittFatma joyfully—“from the bottom of his eyes.” In those days I entered Port Said regularly under the name of Sitt Fatma. Once I came with a duck, another time with a couple of chickens along with peasant bread, eggs, and oranges, from the...

  12. Chapter 9 Craving and Reed Stalks
    (pp. 143-158)

    Water drops fall from the long, rusty wound in the stone of the centuries-old statue. The murmuring water flows cheerfully, without quivering, under the light poured from a strong, high-pitched, firmly radiant lamp. The iron surrounding the fountain is low, circular, presenting an island in a street gushing with two streams of shiny cars—one in each direction—hurrying with their noisy, exploding, fluctuating emissions.

    The new friends, Mikhail and Rama, having come out of the cinema, are overlooking the statue from behind a broad windowpane inside a large modern restaurant practically without customers. Their comfortable seats were mounted with...

  13. Chapter 10 A Copper Mask with Gaping Eyes
    (pp. 159-176)

    It was happening yet again: his fancies were circulating around her. He was daydreaming of her, addressing her in his mind. He heard light knocks on the door, opened it indifferently only to find her standing there. He could not believe it. It occurred to him that something miraculous attended her presence at his door, as if he had established her there by his fancy, something inside him magically becoming embodied.

    The expression on her face, a beautiful mask collapsing in embarrassment, confirmed the moment’s strangeness.

    She said to him: I rang the bell but never heard it sound inside....

  14. Chapter 11 Diocletian’s Column
    (pp. 177-194)

    The long narrow street was craning upward with force, filled with repressed but ready energy. They were going toward the sea below, sensing from afar its fervor, glory, its unassailability. To their left, the ramparts of Mustafa Pasha camp rose high and massive. Its huge stones embodied exceptional rigor, reminiscent of the Spartan spirit of Imperial Roman army corps in the old Necropolis, or the severe discipline of Bonaparte’s soldiers, or of British cannons or Italian detainee camps—not to mention the inscrutability of Egyptian barracks. They continued running beneath the ramparts toward the sea. The road was imbued with...

  15. Chapter 12 The Phoenix Born Daily
    (pp. 195-212)

    It is just as it happens in his dreams: going out and coming in; doors, elevators, stairways—a constant searching for her, an agitated and perplexing trajectory of muddled numbers and directions. At night when he knocked at her door, the face of a taut-skinned man, awake and tired, in his underwear, with disheveled hair, appeared. With two large, wrinkled hands, he held the door cracked open and gazed out with a lightly sarcastic smile. Mikhail mumbled an apology—her door was the next one, he realized.

    It was unlatched, swinging inward when he tapped on it. At that very...

  16. Chapter 13 Death and the Fly
    (pp. 213-228)

    In the end we were conducting love rituals as an act of faith, no more.

    We were not making love, nor was love being made through us.

    He used to feel an impure, agitated joy when stumbling upon her by chance, on a field trip, amid Greek columns constructed in the pharaonic style in the desolation of the seemingly calm and meek sand. Simply their togetherness, without planning, under the warm stones towering to the sky in this narrow gallery between repetitive, unchanging columns—as if these pillars composed a monophonic tune in some fixed, timeworn harmony—gave him temporary...

  17. Chapter 14 The Ninth and Last Day
    (pp. 229-246)

    She said to him: I received your card—you alone remembered my birthday. I’d forgotten it myself.

    He said: How can I forget it? It’s the day the war of 1948 was declared, the same day I was detained by the authorities.

    She said: Better for you if you’d forgotten it.

    He said: Many happy returns. So what happened? I don’t understand.

    She said: I am sad, angry—above all bored.

    There was that concealed dull grief in her face. Her eyes turned navy blue, turbid.

    She said: I can’t understand their silence. I’ve never despised them as much as...

  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 247-248)