cover image The Cheapest Nights

The Cheapest Nights

Yusuf Idris, trans. from the Arabic by Wadida Wassef. Penguin Classics, $18 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-14-313398-8

Wassef’s new translation of Idris’s seminal 1967 story collection is a bracing glimpse into the lives of Egypt’s poor and middle classes after WWII. In “Did You Have to Turn on the Light, Li-Li,” a recent graduate of Al-Azhar University ministers to the destitute and addicted deep in the slums of mid-century Cairo, only to hopelessly fall for a beautiful congregant. In “The Shame,” rumors of an indiscretion between two villagers prompts rage from their families and sets a countryside community on edge. In “The Dregs of the City,” a judge coerces his maid into a sexual relationship, but soon finds his dominance challenged. Idris’s assured prose, translated capably by Wassef, captures the high drama in the lust, labor, and resilience of daily life in a rapidly evolving Egypt. A doctor by trade, Idris saves his most cutting profiles for trained professionals—the undertaker, judges, and doctors whose paternalism is thin cover for greed, vanity, and sexual opportunism. While the collection will be of particular interest to readers drawn to the fiction of the modern Middle East, Idris’s imagination, craft, and emotional insight make this a must-read for all short story enthusiasts. (June)