Saturday, November 28, 2009
The latest novel by Mohamed Tawfik, who was until recently Egyptian ambassador to Australia, has recently appeared in English translation.
Following is a short excerpt:
"When the first armchair smashed into the asphalt, Sergeant Ashmouni was at his usual spot on the median of the Nile Corniche, trapped by the road’s twin currents turbulently flowing forth to Maadi and back to Old Cairo. He was wiping the sweat away from his eyes with his worn out sleeve-and in the process adding a new stain to his white traffic-police uniform-when surprise from the thunderous impact catapulted him into the fast lane of the side of the road closest to the Nile."
Thus opens this fast-paced city thriller laced with dry humor that takes us inside Borg al-Saada-’Tower of Happiness,’ one of the luxury high-rises planted like alien bodies amid the fields along the Nile south of Cairo-and inside the sordid lives and lavish lifestyles of its super-rich and famous denizens. The naked, strangled body of Ahlam, a beautiful young actress, is discovered in one of the elevators, and as the police investigation gets under way, we meet many of the tower’s strange characters: the owner’s agent, Kasib Bey, overweight, toupeed, and decked in gold chains; wealthy contractor Abd al-Tawab Mabruk Basha (Tutu Basha to his friends), insomniac since Ahlam’s murder; Abd al-Malak, a psychic with a Ph.D. in genetic engineering from MIT; Farah, his erstwhile sweetheart, who has become one of the very candy dolls she used to scorn; belly-dancer Lula Hamdi, who would be able to see Timbuktu if she stood on top of a pile of all her money; Madame Esmeralda, the society lady from Chile; and the homely Dr. Mahgub, somewhat less well off than his neighbors. And of course there is Antar-the naughty boy-who roams the tower, enters apartments, and overhears conversations, unsettling and exposing the decadent occupants and their relationships.
Until 2008 Mohamed M. Tawfik served as Egyptian Ambassador to Australia and non-resident Ambassador to New Zealand, Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Marshall Islands.
He has published in Arabic three volumes of short stories, The White
Butterflies, Till the Break of Dawn and Agamyste. An English translation of
selected stories from all three volumes was published in Egypt in 1997
entitled The Day the Moon Fell. He is, perhaps, best known for his two
novels; A Night in the Life of Abdel-Tawab Tutu, and A Naughty Boy Called
Antar. Together, the two novels form an epic work that follows Egypt’s
political and social evolution across the twentieth century. Translated into
English by the author, A Naughty Boy Called Antar was published by the
American University in Cairo Press in December 2008 with the title Murder in
the Tower of Happiness.