Thieves in Retirement
Director in Cairo of a government folk and popular publishing program, and a journalist for a U.A.E. newspaper, Golayyel, 38, has published two short story collections, a book of nonfiction, and this intricate, inspired novel-the first of his books to be translated. Set in a working class area of outer Cairo, it centers on the apartment house of Abu Gamal (""Father of Gamal""), a retired factory worker. The house is part of a huge Nasser-era housing project in the area, and (in Abu Golayyel's hands) it at once seems to contain Nasser's revolutionary socialism, Sadat's accommodation of the west and Mubarak's globalist profligacy. Moreso through the figure of Abu Gamal, who, as a young factory worker, met Nasser, who then decided to put the housing project in the neighborhood-a fact that Abu Golayyel imbues with multiple meanings. Abu Gamal's family grapples existentially with the building and its meanings, and their struggles take peculiarly sexualized forms: Abu Gamal's son, Gamal, is a drug-pushing womanizer; his wife prays each night to wake up as a man; a tenant, Doctoressa, tends to sexual fantasies (including Gamal's); the unnamed narrator, a Bedouin tenant unrelated to Abu Gamal, prefers masturbation and drugs to sex, due to the absolute agency they engender. Drawing knowingly on Quranic incantations and Arabic folk verse, Abu Golayyel creates a unique, absorbing idiom for the narrator. More a collection of vignettes than a consistent narrative, the novel presents a masterful collage of the ordinary extremes of Egyptian society.