Fathi Ghanem


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Born Cairo 24/3/1924
Graduated from the Faculty of Law, Cairo University, 1944
Inspector at the Investigations Department, Ministry of Education, 1944
Reporter at Akher Sa'a magazine, 1950
Deputy editor-in-chief of Akher Sa'a magazine, 1953
Deputy editor-in-chief of Rose Al-Youssef magazine, 1956
Editor-in-chief of Sabah Al-Kheir magazine, 1959
Deputy chairman of the board of the Middle East News Agency, 1965
Chairman of the board of the Middle East News Agency, Feb 1966
Chairman of the board of the Dar Al-Tahrir Organisation, Nov, 1966
Editor-in-chief of Al-Gomhouriya newspaper, 1968
Head of the Dar Al-Tahrir Organisation, 1970
Editor-in-chief of Rose Al-Youssef, 1973
Member of the board of Rose Al-Youssef, 1981
Recipient of the State Merit Award for literature, 1994
Died February 2nd, 1999

With age my sense of the sea sharpens

By Fathi Ghanem

Article- Ibda'a literary monthly- December 1992

My first attempts at writing fiction were linked to an instinctive feeling I had for narration, a wish to convey my feelings and the experiences I had witnessed to others. Those first attempts were a response to a call from within me and a mysterious desire -- it was a call that had many colours and endless interpretations which varied according to time, age and experience. That desire to express oneself sometimes took the form of chasing after a rhythm -- a rhythm that echoed in the memory or the soul. At other times, however, it would be just an indulgence in the magic of words and letters, a discovery of universes unlocked by words, by the formulation of a sentence or even by a single letter.
  I remember while writing my novel The Idiot that the protagonist, who was supposed to be lying on his back in a field while many letters were echoing inside him, had his sight fixed on his fingers as if they were playing with the clouds. The relation between things constantly seems to change whenever man thinks he is close to comprehending them, as if we lived in a changing, tumultuous sea with unfathomable depths.
  As age advances my sense of that sea becomes sharper; it is a sea without shores. However, I find the adventure of writing gives me a relative sense of psychological stability. As the adventure gains a momentum of its own, it rejuvenates itself, acquiring new meanings through its readers. This is perhaps why, since an early age, I have always been against following rules that define one meaning, fix the situation, or transform the process of narration into a search for a constructed plot. All these, in my opinion, are stumbling blocks that encumber the writer in his quest for the unknown... These are forces that resemble the sirens' song which tempts the traveller to diverge from his path. They appear at the moment when a writer begins to evaluate his work from the point of view of its subject matter and its worth, judging his characters on the basis of a specific interpretation which he thinks is the right one. This process strips the readers of their claim to individual interpretation. This is why I have always insisted that one can never reach the far shore of a novel except through a process in which writer, reader and critic all cooperate. The work is never complete until they all participate, each in a different stage.
  In short, we have to be modest when talking about writing.

  Some critics have talked about the influence of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet on my novel The Man Who Lost His Shadow. The truth is that I had not read the Quartet when I wrote that novel, and a closer reading of the two works may reveal that there is no link whatsoever between them.
  For a long time after writing that novel, I was unable to see how I had gone about it. I had started writing it at the end of 1958. Then, I thought it was going to be called The Ladder, as its theme was those people who are driven by a constant desire to climb the social ladder. But five years ago, and as I was watching a video tape of Citizen Kane, a film that is said to have caused a cinematic revolution, I remembered watching that film in a small cinema theatre in New York in 1956. The story of Kane, who was an influential journalist and eventually newspaper proprietor, was dealt with from different angles: that of his guardian, that of his friend the journalist, and that of his second wife. Only while watching the video at home did I finally wonder whether that treatment, with its use of so many different angles, had sunk into my unconscious, affecting my perception of the world of journalism in Egypt. It seems highly possible that this was indeed the case; but I, for one, was completely unaware of that factor until recently.
  In my opinion, if critics were to read my novel in the light of Citizen Kane, they would perhaps find a relationship between them. The influence of good cinema is very clear in my novel and I find this quite acceptable. I recall Fran�ois Mauriac once saying that the idea of one of his novels came to him while watching a French film set in the countryside.
  Jean Cocteau's The Return of Orpheus -- a film about an attempt to return from the other world -- in all probability influenced the making of my novel The Elephants. It is difficult, however, to be absolutely sure of anything in this illogical world of ours.

  As for the character of the eponymous idiot in my novel, I find that of all the characters in my novels he is the closest to me. To write that, I stood on the edge of the impossible; its writing represented for me an attempt to penetrate that impossible domain, where entry is prohibited to all.
  Youssef, the protagonist of The Man Who Lost His Shadow, always represented for me a formula which combines both truth and falsity.
  As for Zeinab, in my novel Zeinab and the Throne, I could not see in her the symbol that many claimed her to be. She is a woman of flesh and blood, and if for some she came to be synonymous with Egypt, that is only because she had to face many challenges and situations that are typically Egyptian. In other words, she reveals Egyptian reality, without becoming a symbol of Egypt.
  The character of Tou, on the other hand, in The Story of Tou, was prompted by the anger I felt inside me when I heard stories about torture in Egyptian concentration camps; the killing of Shohdi Attia being the particular case that affected me the most.

   The writer's  works are : 

Al-Gabal (The Mountain). Cairo: Rose Al-Youssef, 1958
Men Ayn? (Whence?). Cairo: Silsilat Al-Kitab Al-Thahabi, 1959
Al-Sakhen wal-Bared (The Hot and the Cold). Cairo: Silsilat Al-Kitab Al-Dhahabi, 1960
Al-Ragol Alladhi Faqada Dhelloh (The Man Who Lost His Shadow). Cairo: Al-Dar Al-Qawmeiya Lel-Teba'a wal-Nashr, 1961-62.
The Man Who Lost His Shadow, trans. Desmond Stewart. Cairo: AUC Press, 1994
Al-Ghabi (The Idiot). Cairo: Rose Al-Youssef, 1966
Al-Motallaqa (The Divorcee). Screenplay. Cairo, 1966
Al-Bahr (The Sea). Cairo: Dar Al-Tahrir, 1970
Telk Al-Ayam (Those Days). Cairo: Rose Al-Youssef, 1972
Zeinab wal-'Arsh (Zeinab and the Throne). Cairo: Dar Rose Al-Youssef, 1976
Ahmed wa Dawoud (Ahmed and Dawoud). Cairo: Dar Al-Hilal, 1979
Al-Afial (The Elephants). Cairo: Dar Rose Al-Youssef, 1981.
Qalil Men Al-Hobb Kathir Men Al-'Onf (A Little Love, Much Violence). Cairo: Dar Rose Al-Youssef, 1985
Bent Min Shubra (A Girl From Shoubra). Cairo: Dar Al-Hilal, 1986
Hekayat Tou (The Story of Tou). Cairo: Dar Al-Hilal, 1987
Set Al-Hosn wal-Gamal (The Most Beautiful of All). Cairo: Dar Al-Hilal, 1991
Qitt wa Far fil-Qitar (A Cat and A Mouse in the Train). Cairo: Rowayat Al-Hilal, 1995

Short Story Collections:
Tagrobet Hobb (A Love Experience). Cairo, 1958
Sour Hadid Modabbab (A Pointed Iron Fence). Cairo, 1964
Al-Ragol Al-Monasseb (The Right Man). Cairo, 1984
Ba'd Al-Dhann Ethm, Ba'd Al-Dhann Halal (Suspicion Is Often Forbidden, and Sometimes Permitted). Cairo, 1991
'Oyoun Al-Ghoraba' (Strangers' Eyes). Cairo, 1997

Al-Fann fi Hayatena (Art in Our Lives). Cairo: Dar Rose Al-Youssef, 1966.
Ma'raka Bayn Al-Dawla wal-Mothaqqafin (A Conflict Between the State and the Intellectuals). Cairo: Kitab Akhbar El-Youm, 1995

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