cover image Laziness in the Fertile Valley

Laziness in the Fertile Valley

Albert Cossery, trans. from the French by William Goyen. New Directions, $13.95 (182p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1874-0

Egyptian writer Albert Cossery's second novel (after The House of Certain Death), first published in 1947, provides a graceful%E2%80%94and comical%E2%80%94meditation on idleness and the art of doing nothing. Cossery takes pleasure in showing us a family obsessed with doing nothing: from Rafik, the middle brother who rages against anyone who disrupts his sleep, to Galal, the eldest brother who is so lazy he leaves his bed only to eat and use the bathroom, to Hafez, the family patriarch, who wishes only to sleep and to marry. The one exception to this may be Serag, the sole member of his family to seek employment%E2%80%94yet he does so half-heartedly and in such a self-important way that he becomes the most comic character of all. Some of Cossery's characterizations seem outdated. Mimi, a homosexual character, feels forced as does Hoda, the female servant who is inexplicably devoted to Serag. But as we claw our way out of a global recession, Cossery's message about work is especially germane. For Cossery suggests that if backbreaking work is the only option to poverty, then laziness%E2%80%94a rebellion against drudgery%E2%80%94may be life's most meaningful task. (Nov.)