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The Golden Chariot

The Golden Chariot

Salwa Bakr
translated by Dinah Manisty
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Golden Chariot
    Book Description:

    From her cell in a women’s prison, Aziza decides to create a golden chariot to take her to heaven, where her wishes and dreams can be fulfilled. As she muses on who to take with her, she tells the life stories of her fellow prisoners and decides in her heart which ones deserve a free ride to paradise. Aziza’s cruelly frank comments about her friends and their various crimes—including murder, theft, and drug-dealing—weave these tales together into a contemporary Arabian Nights. Salwa Bakr takes a wry and cynical look at how women from widely differing backgrounds, some innocent and some guilty, come together in a single prison ward. Salwa Bakr’s writing depicts life at the grassroots of Egypt’s culture, admiring its resilience in the face of poverty and inequality. With a strong distrust of imported kitsch, western consumerism is contrasted with the indigenous culture. In The Golden Chariot, Salwa Bakr opens a magical door, through which we are able to see the injustices of a society in transition. Beyond these stories of crime, we glimpse the yearning and longing for a better life, and the problems of not being able to realize these dreams by honest means.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-193-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Translatorʹs Note
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Chapter 1 Where the River Flows into the Sea
    (pp. 1-26)

    Aziza the Alexandrian woke from her usual midday nap which she took to make up for the long hours she was up during the night, sometimes till dawn. The din of daily life in the women’s prison had subsided a little; the laughter mixed with the sound of crying, the habitual quarrels between the inmates over the bathroom, the fights over food and the perpetual shrieks of rebuke from the warders demanding submission to the rules and regulations which governed prison life.

    Stretched out on her bed on the floor, she opened her eyes. Through the open window high up...

  5. Chapter 2 The Heart of the Matter: the Meeting of Opposites
    (pp. 27-54)

    The real, hidden reasons behind old Hinna’s killing of her husband, who was about four years older than her, remained a secret which she kept from everyone including her three children and the judges. Hinna stuck to her first statement before the prosecution – adding nothing to it. She claimed that she had forgotten about the container of water she had placed on the gas stove which had boiled dry after she and her husband had gone to sleep that evening. She added that when she woke up the next morning she found herself in a drugged state, unable to...

  6. Chapter 3 The Cow Goddess Hathur
    (pp. 55-76)

    It took no time at all – not even the time it took to soft boil an egg – for Aziza to decide that there was one person who simply must be included on the voyage to heaven. This was the peasant woman, Umm El-Khayr, for whom Aziza felt a warmth which was close to love. Ever since she first saw her in the prison, Aziza had clung to Umm El-Khayr and unburdened her heart to her. She first saw her squatting, with her sleeves rolled up, crumbling bits of bread into a blue tin dish onto which she poured...

  7. Chapter 4 An Escape to Better Things in the Golden Chariot
    (pp. 77-86)

    The old white tiled floor in Aziza the Alexandrians ward looked sparkling clean even though it was faded through the wear and tear of time; Jamalat had just finished scrubbing it with a piece of sackcloth and water, mixed with a little liquid chlorine in the absence of any other disinfectants like carbolic acid which Aziza preferred because it gave a good shine and cleaned well. Unfortunately carbolic acid was not allowed because it came in dark bottles, instead of transparent plastic containers which couldn’t harm anyone in the violent incidents which broke out between the prisoners from time to...

  8. Chapter 5 Mercy before Justice
    (pp. 87-106)

    As Mahrousa, the prison warder, lifted her head from a plate of honey, Safiyya the heroin addict began to massage the warder’s face to stop the honey from dripping. After removing the hair and fine down growing round the chin, cheeks and bridge of her nose with some plaited thread, she washed it in water without soap. Having removed these blemishes she was well pleased with the softness and glow on Mahrousa’s face.

    Mahrousa smiled at the thought of her face after this treatment and, in a hoarse voice, she began to sing a joyous wedding song, remembered from the...

  9. Chapter 6 There Once Lived a Queen Called Zenobia
    (pp. 107-124)

    Doctor Bahiga Abdel Haqq had the rare distinction of being respected and liked by everyone in the prison, including the authorities. The latter were feared by most of the prisoners who submitted to their orders and avoided any contact with them unless absolutely necessary. This demarcation between ruler and ruled follows an old Egyptian tradition which history has taught us and which, time and again, has cost much blood and many lives. Beginning with the building of the pyramids, the tradition persisted throughout the period of anarchy which followed when the sixth dynasty and other later dynasties ruled and were...

  10. Chapter 7 Grief of the Sparrows
    (pp. 125-140)

    This creature, as white as a turnip heart, who was so thin that half of her seemed to be missing, was the bewildered young girl known by everyone in the women’s prison as “Silent Shafiqa”. Her origins and the sequence of events which brought her to the women’s prison were a complete mystery to everyone. Neither did anyone know who her parents were, nor the name they had originally given her.

    One day she arrived at the prison on a charge of begging and thereafter returned to the prison repeatedly on the same charge, as one of its many short-term...

  11. Chapter 8 Melody of the Heavenly Ascent
    (pp. 141-150)

    No one ever knew what Aziza the Alexandrian did while she remained alone in her solitary cell for fourteen hours each day – after the door had been locked from the outside at about five in the afternoon until it was opened by the duty warder at seven o’clock the next morning. The prisoners in the ward for the weak next door could hear her footsteps for most of the night as she paced anxiously up and down, rarely stopping. Nothing else could be heard from her cell as she carried on extended conversations with her mother, the murdered husband,...

  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 151-154)