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Nile Sparrows

Nile Sparrows

Ibrahim Aslan
Translated by Mona El-Ghobashy
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 128
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  • Book Info
    Nile Sparrows
    Book Description:

    Set in the author’s own Nile-side neighborhood of Warraq, Aslan’s second novel, the first to be translated and published in English, chronicles the daily rhythm of life of rural migrants to Cairo and their complex webs of familial and neighborly relations over half a century. It opens with the mysterious disappearance of the tiny grandmother, Hanem, who is over 100 years old and is last seen by her daughter-in-law Dalal. Dalal does not have the heart to tell Hanem that her grown children Nargis and Abdel Reheem have both been dead for some time. Her grandson Mr. Abdalla, who has children of his own and not a few flecks of gray in his hair, reluctantly sets out for their home village to search for her, embarking on a bittersweet odyssey into his family’s past and a confrontation with his own aging. In an elliptical narrative, Aslan limns a series of vignettes that mimic the workings of memory, moving backward and forward in time and held together by a series of recurrent figures and images. There is Abdalla’s father, the tragic al-Bahey Uthman; his quirky and earthy uncle Abdel Reheem; and his sweet mother, Nargis, who dies with her simplest desires unfulfilled. Aslan’s moving portrait of the quotidian dramas that constitute the lives of ordinary Egyptians is untainted by populist pretensions or belittling romanticism, and full of the humor and heartbreaking pathos that have become trademarks of the author’s style.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-154-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Translatorʹs Note
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. 1
    (pp. 1-7)

    The grandmother awoke from her nap. She left her place by the large, clay water-storage urn and walked to the door barefoot, holding onto the wall for support. She stood concealing her body in the doorjamb, looking out at her son, Abd al-Reheem, who was being carried to the open car. She kept smiling and talking to herself until the crowd dispersed. Hagg Mahmoud the coal dealer spotted her and went over.

    “You go inside, Auntie Hanem. God willing, he’ll be fine.”

    “Who are you, son?”

    “I’m Hagg Mahmoud.”

    “Oh my, Dawlat’s son?”

    “No, I’m Hagg Mahmoud, the coal dealer.”...

  4. 2
    (pp. 8-27)

    Once, the power had gone out suddenly while Nargis was watching television. She was terrified because there was nothing she feared more in the whole world than the dark. She took one step while waiting for Bahey, who was at Gaber the grocer’s. When she heard the brush of his gallabiya against the door, she called out, “Abu Abduh?”

    “Yes,” said Bahey and went into the kitchen.

    Nargis stood listening to his hands fiddle with the matchbox and saw the faint light as he was coming through the hallway. She watched as the shadow made by the towel hanging on...

  5. 3
    (pp. 28-58)

    It was summer, and the red dates had sprouted. Nargis was alone, al-Bahey Uthman was at work, Abdalla was at school, and the kids were playing on the roof. She was combing her long parted hair, her bronze-colored face ruddy and warm, wincing every time the wooden comb got stuck in her thick, dark locks.

    Abd al-Reheem arrived suddenly, surprising her, and said hello. He dragged the two large baskets into the room and sat on the couch resting and letting his sweat dry off. She gathered her hair and started asking him about the village, but Abd al-Reheem went...

  6. 4
    (pp. 59-79)

    The house, as Abd al-Reheem and his family called it, was formerly the courtyard of a large, stone building built in the early twentieth century, with a wooden door that Hagg Abbas al-Kebir had forced open during World War II to enable him to get out onto Fadlallah Uthman and to the riverbank during intense air raids. The upper floors occupied by the other tenants had a separate entrance on a back street.

    This courtyard had three skylights. Abd al-Reheem had received it completely unfinished save for a large room with one wide window with bars on it on the...

  7. 5
    (pp. 80-94)

    In the men’s ward, Dalal sat on the tiled floor next to the small metal cabinet, which had arranged on it the medicines, the health insurance card, a pitcher, and a glass. When her stomachache felt severe, she stretched her legs out under the bed or played with the yellow hose hanging from the oxygen cylinder. Every now and then, she raised herself up to check on Abd al-Reheem, who had been bedridden for days, his heart weak, and the swelling spreading to his face and feet. If she saw that his head was hanging too low on his chest...

  8. 6
    (pp. 95-107)

    It’s nighttime, and the clinic is on the ground floor of a building without a door on Fadlallah Uthman. A big reception area with motley chairs, but the dust-colored parquet floor is well swept. Mr. Abdalla sits to the right of the small desk, the old male nurse stands by the curtain of the exam room, and over there, a faded picture of a woman feeding a baby from her bare breast. The light is faint and the paint is chipping off the walls.

    Abdalla is waiting for the doctor. He tries over and over again to retrieve some of...

  9. 7
    (pp. 108-114)

    Dalal woke up, took a clean metal bowl and the small boy Abdalla by the hand, and called out in the direction of the far room, “Good morning, Ma.”

    “Are you up, Dalal?” came the reply from the courtyard roof. Dalal looked for the old woman but couldn’t see her in the darkness; she replied, “Yes, I’m up.”

    “Did the kids go to school?”

    “Today’s Friday, there’s no school.”

    “Fine, come in, dear.”

    “I’m going out.”

    “You’re going out, Dalal?”

    “Just to the shop. Abdalla’s hungry.” And the boy cried out, “Hanem!”

    “Did he say, ‘Hanem’?”

    “Yes, the little brat.”...

  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 115-115)